Rare Dublin fireplace for London

Sat, Oct 27, 2012, 01:00

A fine chimneypiece, originally from Newman House on St Stephen’s Green is for auction in London

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE now that the State allowed hundreds of magnificent Georgian townhouses in Dublin to be demolished in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for “development”.

The surviving buildings, once derided by some as symbolising “British” architectural heritage, are now among Ireland’s most important cultural assets and a significant tourist attraction.

Happily, at least some of fixtures from the demolished houses – especially the opulent marble fireplaces – were salvaged. These are now keenly sought-after by collectors and sell for tens of thousands of euro.

Next week, a very rare example of the highest quality will be offered at a Christie’s auction in London.

According to Christie’s, the fireplace (technically a chimneypiece) once adorned 86 St Stephen’s Green in Dublin, a house which is one of three buildings (two Georgian townhouses and a Victorian hall) that comprise UCD’s Newman House.

The precursor of UCD, the Catholic University of Ireland (CUI) opened in Newman House in 1854.

86 St Stephen’s Green was originally built for Richard Chapell Whaley, a wealthy 18th-century landowner and father of Buck Whaley, a notorious rake and gambler whose name has lived on in the netherworld of Dublin nightlife.

The fireplace, made of Spanish brocatello marble and featuring panels depicting foliage and sparrows is 142cm high and 175cm wide. It is attributed, circa 1765-1770, to Johan Augustus Richter, a London craftsman and a leading exponent of the inlaid marble technique known by the Italian term scagliola. It is believed that Richter supplied two fireplaces for the house. One is still there.

The curator of Newman House, Ruth Ferguson said there was a similarly “stunning fireplace” still in the Bishop’s Room in 86 St Stephen’s Green. She had no record of the second fireplace but that it “could have been removed”.

The circumstances of its removal from the house are unknown.

Christie’s has assigned the fireplace, “the property of a gentleman”, an estimate of between £70,000-£100,000 (€87,000-€125,000) ahead of the auction in the South King Street, London saleroom next Wednesday.