This large set of Irish dining chairs with their dense mahogany and beautifully carved shell crestrails are a prime example of the quintessential Irish flair for integrating their own aesthetic with Chippendale designs. However, these dining chairs are also perhaps unique in that they are connected to two of Ireland’s most significant names: Malahide Castle, one of the oldest inhabited houses in Ireland, and the Hon. Desmond Guinness, the great connoisseur and champion of Irish heritage.
These chairs formed part of the collection at Malahide Castle, County Dublin, one of the oldest Norman Estates in Ireland, dating back to 1189 when Price John, son of Henry II, confirmed Richard Talbot to the Lordship of Malahide. Subsequent generations of Talbots inhabited Malahide for almost eight hundred years and this incredibly long tenure led to a remarkable architectural history as well as one of the most important hereditary Irish collections, with an almost archeological layering of original paintings and furnishings. The Great Hall, later used as the Dining Room and shown here with the dining chairs in-situ, is one of Ireland’s few intact medieval rooms and is considered to be one of the most impressive to survive. Although other surviving elements date from late 15th/early 16th century, the castle and its interiors were extensively reconstructed in the 1760s with the succession of Richard Talbot around the time of his marriage to Margaret O’Reilly, subsequently Baroness Talbot de Malahide. Many of these structural alterations were a fashionable update in the current 'Gothic' taste but more traditional Georgian interiors were also incorporated. It is during this period that these dining chairs almost certainly arrived at Malahide. The castle remained in the Talbot family until 1976 when it was sold after the death of the 7th Baron. In 1976, Christie's sold the contents of Malahide, and these chairs were sold from the Dining Room.
The second son of Bryan Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne (1905-1992) and the Hon. Diana Mitford (1910-2003), the Hon. Desmond Guinness founded the Irish Georgian Society in 1958, the first dedicated to preserving and protecting historic Irish architecture and interiors. He is an author of several books on Irish Georgian architecture as well as Ireland’s notable homes and castles. He has also devoted some of his considerable fortune as one of the heirs to Guinness brewing to preserving and restoring two of them: Leixlip Castle and Castletown. These dining chairs were acquired by Guinness at the Christie’s house sale for Leixlip, which like Malahide Castle is one of Ireland’s oldest continuously inhabited homes. In the 18th Century it was owned by the Conollys of Castletown and then passed through several owners until 1958 when it was purchased and subsequently restored and refurbished by Guinness. He purchased Castletown house, thought to be finest Palladian house in Ireland in 1967.
The pattern for these dining chairs derives from a design for a 'new pattern chair’ published by Thomas Chippendale (d.1779), in The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director, 1st ed., 1754, pl XII. English pattern books were certainly used by Irish cabinet-makers, but the designs were generally adapted to include Irish idiosyncrasies - in this case the shape of the elongated shells to the upper corners of the crestrail, a feature rarely employed in English examples (The Knight of Glin and J. Peill, Irish Furniture, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 110). These ‘improved’ English designs and patterns were continually referred to and repeated in Ireland throughout the 18th and into the 19th centuries.
The design of the present set of chairs relates to a matched set of eighteen Irish dining chairs, sold Christie's, London, 19 November 2015, lot 705. Other groups of this similar model include a set of sixteen chairs with molded legs was formerly in the collection of the 3rd Earl of Iveagh at Elveden Hall, Norfolk, and sold at Christie’s house sale, 21-24 May 1984, lot 436 (£60,480 including premium). Another matched set of sixteen formerly in the collection of Mr. & Mrs. David Ker, sold at Christie’s, London, 5 November 2015, lot 175.