Presenting over 300 objects drawn from public and private collections across North America—as well as the Art Institute’s own important collection of Irish decorative and fine arts—this exhibition is the first to explore the rich and complex art and culture of Ireland during the long 18th century.
The seeds for the exhibition were first planted by historian Desmond Fitzgerald, 29th Knight of Glin, who in his 2007 book, Irish Furniture, outlined his vision for “a major exhibition on Ireland’s decorative arts of the 18th century, which would … waken up the world to a staggering array of art that was manufactured in Ireland during this period.” Surprisingly, such an exhibition has never before been undertaken on either side of the Atlantic. Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840 expands on the Knight of Glin’s vision to also include paintings, sculpture, and architecture. Irish book bindings, ceramics, glass, furniture, metalwork, musical instruments, and textiles are also featured in a series of “Made in Ireland” galleries highlighting Dublin, Cork, Belfast, and Waterford as centers of production.
Ever since the agricultural depression in the British Isles in the 1880s, many extraordinary objects from Ireland have come to the United States and Canada. Today they are scattered in locations from Honolulu to Boston and from Ottawa, Ontario, to San Antonio, Texas. These often little-known objects come together for the first time in this pioneering exhibition and the accompanying catalogue, which includes the latest scholarship by some of Ireland’s most respected historians. Works of art representing 24 Irish counties are installed in ten galleries focusing on such themes as the history of Ireland through portraiture; Dublin as a center of commerce, culture, and government; Irish landscapes and tourism; and life in the Irish country house.
The Art Institute of Chicago is not only the first but the only venue to present this show celebrating the Irish as artists, collectors, and patrons—a fitting tribute to Chicago’s own deep Irish roots.