Guinness family selling Maclise painting ‘Figure of Erin’

Study for Irish artist’s murals in London’s House of Lords

While Sotheby's showed Sir William Orpen's Portrait of Lady Idina Wallace in Belfast and Dublin this week, ahead of its auction in London, Adam's has announced the sale of another major figurative painting by an Irish artist.

Figure of Erin by Daniel Maclise will go under the hammer in Dublin next month with an estimate of €120,000-€160,000.

Cork-born Maclise (1806-1870), best-known for his large painting The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, in the National Gallery of Ireland, was a prominent artist in Victorian London.

In 1846, during the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament at Westminster, he was commissioned to paint murals in the House of Lords on themes such as justice and chivalry.


One of the models he chose was Caroline Norton (1808-1877) who was used to illustrate the figure of "Justice". She was a well-known campaigner for women's and children's rights and is credited with the passage through parliament of legislation including the Custody of Infants Act, 1839, the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857 and the Married Women's Property Act, 1870.

Norton was a controversial figure in London society. The break-up of her marriage and rumoured affair with prime minister Lord Melbourne had caused a great scandal and her selection by Maclise to model, as the personification of justice, was a daring choice.

Adam's said the painting Figure Of Erin was a study for the mural. Although she was English, Caroline Norton had Irish roots. Her grandfather was the playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Her sister Helen married into the aristocratic Blackwood family, who owned the Clandeboye estate near Belfast.

Helen's son, the 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava acquired Figure Of Erin and it hung in Clandeboye for 100 years. In the 1960s the painting was bought by the late Mariga Guinness and then inherited by her son Patrick who has now decided to sell it.

By a twist of fate, it will go back to Clandeboye, to Adam’s Ava Gallery on the estate, for public viewing for one week from Thursday, November 14th and will be auctioned in Dublin on December 4th.

David Britton of Adam's described Figure Of Erin as "probably the most important work by Maclise to come on the public market in over 50 years".