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George Barret, R.A. (1732-1784)
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George Barret, R.A. (1732-1784)

View of Powerscourt Waterfall, with the octagonal summerhouse, and figures and horses in the foreground

Details
George Barret, R.A. (1732-1784)
View of Powerscourt Waterfall, with the octagonal summerhouse, and figures and horses in the foreground
oil on canvas
32 x 42 in. (81.3 x 106.8 cm.)
Provenance
Presumably Edward Wingfield, 2nd Viscount Powerscourt, and by descent to
Mervyn, 9th Viscount Powerscourt, who sold Powerscourt, together with its contents, to Mr and Mrs Ralph Slazenger in 1961.
Mr and Mrs Ralph Slazenger, house sale, Powerscourt, Enniskery, co. Wicklow; Christie's and Hamilton and Hamilton (Estates) Ltd., 24 September 1984, lot 16 (£21,600 to the present vendor).
Literature
W.G. Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists, Shannon, 1913, I, p. 30.
D. Guinness and W. Ryan, Irish Houses and Castles, New York, 1971, p. 330, illustrated.
A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, The Painters of Ireland c. 1660-1920, London, 1978, p. 116.
J. Egerton, The Paul Mellon Collection, British Sporting and Animal Paintings 1655-1867, London, 1978, p. 114, under no. 110.
To be included in A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin's forthcoming book Ireland's Painters, to be published by Yale University Press in 2002.
Exhibited
Possibly London, Society of Artists, 1764.
Belfast, Ulster Museum and Dublin, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Irish Houses and Landcapes, 1963, no. 8.
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Post Lot Text
Fig. numbers refer to comparative illustrations in the printed catalogue.

Lot Essay

Edward Wingfield, 2nd Viscount Powerscourt, who presumably commissioned this painting, was one of George Barret's most important early patrons. The two are said to have been introduced by Edmund Burke, whose seminal essay A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful so influenced the artist. Powerscourt, one of the grandest of all Irish country houses, built for the 2nd Viscount's father, Richard Wingfield, M.P., later 1st Viscount Powerscourt (fig. 1), to the designs of Richard Castle (incorporating a medieval castle), between 1731 and 1741, was set in a vast demesne which was renowned for the dramatic beauty of its landscape. The picturesque rocky woods and rushing water of the Dargle valley, the magnificent waterfall itself - the highest in Ireland - and the Wicklow mountains, became a popular destination for tourists in the latter half of the 18th century and provided Barret with the inspiration for some of his most powerful landscapes, dominating his early output. In an open letter published anonymously as Hibernia Curiosa in 1764, a contemporary tourist, John Bush, gives a vivid account of the waterfall and the excitement it engendered as well as a description of its particular characteristics, conveyed with great accuracy in this picture:

'At the very bottom of this sylvan amphitheatre, and in view from your first entrance into it, is seen one of the most beautiful water-falls in Great Britain, or Ireland, and, perhaps, in the world. It is produced by a small river that rises on the plains or shallow vallies, on the top of an adjacent range of mountains above, which have no other out-let for the waters, that, from the springs and rains are collected in these little vallies, but by a descent to the edge of this precipice. Where in the horizontal distance of 50 or 60 feet, it falls, at least, three hundred; upwards of two hundred feet of it is visible on the plain below, and is nearly perpendicular, or not above nine or ten feet from the direct. The effect of this small degree of obliquity is extremely fine, for besides the greater quantity of the water that from one small break, or projection, to another, is thrown off the rock in beautiful curves, it produces an infinite number of frothy streaks behind the larger sheets of water, which through the divisions of these more considerable and impetuous falls, are seen running down the rock, in a thousand different and broken directions, at a slower rate, from their adhesion to the rocks. The general form and composition of this precipice contributes infinitely to the variety and beauty of the fall ... the only time to see this most beautiful and astonishing water-fall in its highest perfection is immediately after heavy rains ... on such increase in waters, nothing of the kind can exceed the beauty, the almost terrific grandeur of the fall ... the
whole together presents the mind of the curious spectator with
astonishment, mixt with the highest admiration ... The Trees which grow from the bottom to the top of the hill, on the sides of this prodigious water-fall, are an inexpressible addition to the beauty of the scene,
especially at the distance of an hundred yards from the fall, and
whoever will undertake the most laborious task indeed, of climbing the hill, from tree to tree, to view the river from the top, before it
comes to the precipice, will have their curiosity amply rewarded. (A letter from a Gentleman in Dublin To his Friend at Dover In Kent ..., published as Hibernia Curiosa, Dublin, 1764).

Another contemporary account of the waterfall, published the following year, in A Tour Through Ireland, edited by Philip Luckomb (in which the description of the waterfall itself is based almost entirely on Bush's earlier description) goes on to describe the buildings erected by Lord Powerscourt near the base of the waterfall which are shown to the left of this composition:

'For the entertainment of foreigners, as well as the people of Ireland, the noble owner has had a broad road made from his seat at Powerscourt to the Waterfall as direct a line of ground a line as the ground will admit, by demolishing useless underwoods, and leaving clumps of fine old trees at proper distances. Drains are also cut through the low-lands from the park gate to the water-fall; near which is a fine octagon room, of twenty five feet in diameter, and fifteen high, built with brick, plastered and rough-cast on the outside; the floor is mosaic work of different colours, the ceiling stucco, and the roof covered with straw. This elegant room is so contrived, that there may be five openings at once, or any less number, having windows arched to fill up these spaces from top to bottom, and doors for the same if neccessary; both which, by springs, fly up and down with the greater expedition. Within a few yards of this octagon, there is a very neat kitchen of twelve feet square, furnished with every convenience for dressing victuals; and what is worthy notice the time from laying the foundations to completing these buildings, did not exceed five weeks. His Lordship has also erected a wooden bridge over the river near these buildings.

When in 1762 Barret issued a proposal to publish by subscription engravings under his own direction by John Dixon, all four of the pictures were of the Dargle, and in 1763 when Barret moved to London to try his fortune a View of the Waterfall at Powerscourt was one of two landscapes that he brought with him and which he sent with others to the exhibition of the Society of Artists in 1764. It has been suggested that this picture may be the picture exhibited at the Society of Artists (J. Egerton, op. cit.). A larger composition of the Powerscourt waterfall by Barret, taken from a different angle, is in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (100 x127 cms; no. 174), and others are in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and the Limerick Art Gallery. Barret's celebrated view of Powerscourt itself, set in its park with the big Sugar Loaf in the background, is at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut (no. B1981.25.31; see fig. 2).
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