Thomas Roberts, the most brilliant Irish landscape painter of the 18th century, was a pupil of George Mullins. Roberts exhibited ten paintings 'at Mr. Mullins', Temple Bar' between 1766 and 1768. He moved to Shaw's Court, Dame Street in 1769, and exhibited in that year twelve other landscapes besides this Rathfarnham view. He continued to exhibit many canvases at the Society until 1777, the year before his tragic and premature death aged 30, in Lisbon from 'a pulmonary complaint' on account of 'good fellowship'.
Comparatively little is known about Roberts and his brother Thomas Sautell who took on his brother's name and probably studio after his death. Their father was the distinguished Waterford architect John Roberts and the Field Marshall, Earl Roberts was descended from an older brother of the two artists. Thomas went through the Dublin Society Schools in 1763 before his apprenticeship to Mullins and Pasquin states he was improved by the Cork-born artist Butts. Both Roberts and Mullins had looked back to Dutch landscape painting and the Italianate classic views of the 17th century. Vernet was also a considerable influence on him. Sarfield Taylor comments on 'the freshness that we see in nature' and that 'he pencilled in his foliage beautifully'. This contrasts with the softer warmth of his rocks. His water varies from the serenity of the pellucid lakes to the tumult of waterfalls and this water in a very marked degree gives to his paintings the vaporous atmosphere which is typical of Ireland.
Rathfarnham Castle, built in 1580 by Archbishop Loftus, was bought by the 2nd Earl of Ely in 1767, a descendant of the original builder. Alterations, including the splendid Rococo plasterwork, dated from his time. Lord Ely died in 1769, the year of this painting, and his uncle Henry Loftus, later 1st Earl of Ely of the second creation, inherited it and further decorated its interiors with superb neo-classical plasterwork by James 'Athenian' Stuart in 1769. The modest entrance to the park shown to the front of the castle in Roberts' painting was replaced by an elaborate triumphal arch which still stands between the river Dodder and modern road, but stranded from the Castle by the now built up area which was once the extensive park. After various owners the Castle now belongs to the Irish State and is under restoration.
The accurate rendering of the thatched cottage is of interest and behind the lively painted women washing linen in the river are feeding geese and two 'slipes' - those solid wheeled carts endemic to Ireland - and a gig make this passage of painting a charming vignette of peasant life in contrast to the great Castle standing grandly in its secluded wooded park.
(see A. Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, The Painters of Ireland
c.1660-1920, London, 1978, pp.127-135).
We are very grateful to the Knight of Glin for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.