New Book | Country House Collections

Posted in books by Editor on September 25, 2021

From Four Courts Press:

Terence Dooley and Christopher Ridgway, eds., Country House Collections: Their Lives and Afterlives (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2021), 336 pages, ISBN: 978-1846829758, €50 / $70.

Country houses have been defined by their contents as much as by their architecture, landscapes, and the families who occupied them. They have boasted assemblies ranging from antiquities, paintings, decorative arts, books and manuscripts, to antiquarian, ethnographic, and scientific collections. Outdoors their gardens were often adorned with collections of other sorts, monuments, sculpture, and horticultural specimens. Rarely have such collections survived intact—sales, destruction, fire, and theft have been repeated occurrences. Country house collecting has been about dispersal as well as acquisition.

The essays in this volume look at a range of country house collections in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Continental Europe. They consider how and why collections were amassed and examine their break-ups, and the reasons for such dispersals, whether elective or enforced; they question how the identity of a house changes if its contents have been removed; they consider the afterlives of objects as they moved into the art market, the museum world, or elsewhere; and they deliberate on what happens to a collection once it has begun to be dismembered, and how objects are viewed and understood in new locations by different audiences. Among the other topics considered are the impact of exhibitions, auctions and tax systems, private versus institutional collectors, the range of audiences who appreciate art, and how collections are made to tell national stories.

Terence Dooley is director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates, History Department, Maynooth University. Christopher Ridgway is curator at Castle Howard in Yorkshire.


Foreword by Mary Heffernan

Part I: Assembling and Dispersing
• William Laffan (Independent Scholar) — ‘I thought everyone tries to get pieces out of there, not in’: Collecting for the Irish country house, c.1950–2020
• Terence Dooley (Maynooth University) — Carton House and its contents: Collection and dispersal in context, 1729–1949
• Philip Cottrell (Trinity College Dublin) — ‘A course of wandering picture hunting’: George Scharf ’s survey of English country house collections, 1856–57
• Christopher Ridgway (Castle Howard) — New walls for old pictures: The Castle Howard bequest to the National Gallery
• Elena Porter (Oxford University) — Conspiracies of silence: Contextualizing value at country house contents auctions in inter-war England
• James Miller (Sotheby’s) — The rise and decline of the country house sale, 1977–2020: From Mentmore to Chatsworth, a personal reflection
• Wendy Philips (Sotheby’s) — Checks and balances: Respecting private owners and protecting the national heritage
• Robert O’Byrne (Irish Georgian Society) — The library at Marlfield, Co. Tipperary: Its creation and destruction

Part II: Contexts and Reinterpretations
• Stephen Hague (Rowan University) — ‘It was voted to refurnish the house as far as possible’: Alternate approaches to country house collections in America
• Judith Hill (University of Limerick) — Transforming Farmleigh: From private residence to national treasure
• Christopher Warleigh-Lack (Historic Royal Palaces) — Hillsborough Castle and gardens: Creating a modern collection
• James Rothwell (National Trust) — ‘Selling the family silver’ – and returning it home: The history of plate collections and their display in National Trust houses
• Salvijus Kulevicius (Vilnius University) — Country house collections and museums in Lithuania: A tale of cultural Appropriation
• Lesley Whiteside (Independent Scholar) — Private archives in the Irish country house: A personal perspective


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