Apollo Magazine

12 Days: Highlights of 2015

Ireland's outstanding 18th-century decorative arts have been long overlooked, but a new exhibition in Chicago looks set to change that

Portable Harp (c. 1820), John Egan. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg, Professional Graphics

Over the 12 days of Christmas, Apollo contributors and invited guests select their anticipated highlights of 2015

View the 12 Days series here

The decorative arts in Ireland have enjoyed two outstanding eras. The first, covering the pre- and early-Christian period with its extraordinary stone and metalwork, and calligraphy has long enjoyed international renown. But the glories of the second, spanning successive reigns of the four Georges and categorised as the long 18th century, have been too little appreciated even within Ireland.

Portable Harp (c. 1820), John Egan. Photo: Jamie Stukenberg, Professional Graphics

This scenario is set to change next spring thanks to a show taking place in Chicago’s Art Institute. ‘Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840’ will feature some 350 exhibits including painting, sculpture, and furniture as well as bookbinding, ceramics, glass, metalwork, musical instruments and textiles. Astonishingly, such an event has never been held anywhere before and, even more remarkable, all the items will have come from American collections: a reflection of how much of Ireland’s decorative heritage has been lost to its country of origin. While this is a matter of regret, the exhibition ought to secure Irish decorative arts’ rightful place in the international canon – and ensure that what remains at home is better cherished.

‘Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840’ is at the Art Institute of Chicago from March 17–June 7 2015.

View the rest of the 12 Days series here.

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