2018-05-30-2019-01-23 --- 2019-01-23 01:41:28--18
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LOT :13
James Mahony ARHA (1810-1879)
The Official Opening of 'The National Exhibition of the Arts, Manufactures and Products of Ireland' Cork, 1852
Watercolour, 74 x 66cm (29 x 26'')
Estimate EUR : €4,000.00 - €6,000.00
Auction Date : 30-05-2018


James Mahony ARHA (1810-1879)
The Official Opening of 'The National Exhibition of the Arts, Manufactures and Products of Ireland' Cork, 1852
Watercolour, 74 x 66cm (29 x 26'')

This large watercolour by James Mahony depicts the building designed by John Benson for the National Exhibition of the Arts, Manufactures, and Products of Ireland held in Cork in 1852. The exhibition took place on the Corn Exchange site on Albert Quaywhere City Hall now standsand was opened by the Lord Lieutenant, Archibald Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Elginton, on June 10th of that year. The watercolour depicts a long line of eminent citizens, waiting to be introduced to the Lord Lieutenant, who stands on a carpeted dais in the foreground. A tipstaff announces the names of those who are to ascend the steps to the dais; they appear to be mainly men, while the audience looking on from both sides is composed mainly of women. First in line is a man, hat in hand, wearing a blue sash and medallion. Galleries on either side of the hall are also packed with spectators. Benson was a brilliant engineer and architect, who used innovative building methods; the roof of the Cork Exhibition hall, with its four transepts, was constructed of laminated wood trusses, bent into semi-circles, and linked together to form a strong but light structure. Large skylights admitted light into the building. The same system was used in his designs for other Cork buildings, including the Butter Market, the Firkin Crane and the English Market. Following on from his success in Cork, Benson was engaged to design the buildings for the Dublin International Exhibition in 1853.

Unfortunately, being constructed mainly of wood, over the years all of Bensons Cork buildings have been destroyed, or have lost their original truss roofs, as a result of fire. When the Cork National Exhibition ended, the building was dismantled and sold to the trustees of the Royal Cork Institution. Three years later it was re-erected, on a site beside the Cork School of Art (now the Crawford Art Gallery). Titled The Atheneaeum, it was inaugurated by the Lord Lieutenant, George Frederick Howard, Earl of Carlisle, and over the following decades was used mainly for lectures, exhibitions and performances. Re-named the Cork Opera House in 1877, it hosted many theatrical and opera performances before being destroyed by fire in 1955.

Mahonys watercolour depicts the first inauguration of the building in 1852. He depicts an ornate but functional interior, one that combined conventional architectural elements, including Corinthian columns, with proto-Modernist construction methods. When the building was re-erected as the Athenaeum three years later, it was a simpler structure, and by the time it was remodelled as the Cork Opera House in the later nineteenth century, it had lost most of its original embellishments. A contemporary wood engraving by Mahony, published in The Illustrated London News, shows another transept in the Cork Exhibition complex, the Fine Arts Hall.

Born in Cork in or around 1810, James Mahony specialised in views of historical events and paintings with religious themes. He first exhibited in the 1833 exhibition of the Cork Society for Promoting the Fine Arts and during the following years travelled extensively on the Continent, mainly in France and Italy. Returning to Ireland, he settled at the home of his father, a carpenter, at 34 Nile Street. The date of his return has not been established precisely; Strickland gives it as 1841, but in 1839 Mahony painted a large watercolour of the blessing of the Church of St. Marys on Popes Quay, a painting now in the Great Hunger Museum in Quinnipiac, Connecticut. During those years Mahony also set about founding, along with fellow artist Samuel Skillen, a Cork Art Union. The concept of an Art Union, where works of art from an annual exhibition were distributed by lottery amongst a group of subscribers, had already been put into operation in London and in other cities. An Art Union in Dublin had been founded two years previously, and there was also one in Belfast. Each member paid an annual subscription of one pound. This gave the subscriber (and up to three friends) free admission to the exhibition, as well as participation in the lottery of paintings. In the first year of the Union's operation in Cork, it was reckoned that more than 100 would be spent on the purchase of paintings, to be distributed amongst the subscribers. The first exhibition was held in September 1841 at Marsh's Rooms on the South Mall, and in spite of the bad weather was an immediate success, with Mahony and Skillen both amongst the exhibitors.

Mahony showed again in 1844, submitting two paintings to the Cork Art Union Exhibition, Strada di son Giardino a Subraio, and Nella Chiesa di San Maria della Fiore a Genzano vicino di Roma, both priced at four pounds and four shillings. In November 1846, his view of the Fr. Matthew Memorial Tower at Glanmire was presented to Queen Victoria. Around this time, he resumed his travels, spending a number of years in Spain, before returning to Ireland. In 1852, as well as depicting the inauguration of the Cork National Exhibition, he showed several watercolours in the Fine Arts section, including The City of Cork from the river near the Custom House and Queens College, Cork, along with views of Venice and Rome. Settling in Dublin four years later, he exhibited at the RHA, and was also made an associate of the Academy. A large panoramic view of Dublin, in the National Gallery of Ireland, shows his talents in rendering architectural detail. Also in the NGI is his watercolour depicting the visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to the 1853 Dublin Exhibition. In 1859 Mahony moved to London, where he worked as an illustrator, until his death in 1879. While he produced paintings of notable building, and civic and cultural events, Mahony is best known nowadays for his graphic images of the effects of famine in Co. Cork, which were published in The Illustrated London News in the 1840s. These harrowing images influenced public opinion, and helped changed the British governments official stance of indifference to the Great Famine. James Mahony is not to be confused with a later Cork artist, James Mahoney, who also painted in watercolour. (See Julian Campbell Irish Arts Review Vol 28, No. 2 (2011) p. 98]

Peter Murray, April 2018

Hammer Price : €4,200.00
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