Rare suite in carved walnut dating from the 19th century
A rare suite of carved walnut furniture from the 19th century is now on display at O’Sullivan’s Antiques on Francis Street in Dublin. It was created by Robert Strahan of Henry Street in Dublin in 1840 for Viscount Doneraile of Doneraile Court in Co Cork.
The suite includes a center table, six side chairs, a pair of large library chairs, two tub chairs and a stool that converts to a prie-dieu. All upholstery is original Moroccan leather, and each of the 12 pieces bears the Strahan stamp and label
Doneraile Court is one of the finest estates in Ireland. Dating from 1720, it was inhabited by the St Leger family, who remained in residence until 1969, when the estate was purchased by the Land Commission. After a lengthy restoration by the Office of Public Works and architectural historian Christopher Moore, the property opened in 2019.
Strahan and Company was founded by Robert Strahan in 1776, who supplied furniture for some of Ireland’s leading houses. The company exhibited at the Great Industrial Exhibition in Dublin in 1853 – the largest international event held in Ireland – and was subsequently patronized by the Board of Works, which contracted the company to manufacture high quality furniture.
It has been suggested that Strahan was stylistically influenced by the rugged classicism of Thomas Hope, the Dutch and English designer who is best known for introducing Greek Revival architecture and opening his home at 10 Duchess Street as a museum due of his Egyptian Hall, which was later the inspiration for the Egyptian Hall at Piccadilly.
The pieces are incredibly intricate, the central table having a marquetry border filled with cartouches and scrolling foliage. O’Sullivan’s is convinced that this was certainly the example shown at the London International Exhibition in 1862 – as an identical design is illustrated in the Art Journal’s illustrated catalog of the exhibition.
It was acquired by the antique shop 20 years ago and has been in storage ever since, so this is the first time it has been seen outside its original home since it went on display in London in 1862.
The 160-year-old suite house – Doneraile Court – is steeped in history. From the horse race between Buttevant and Doneraile in 1752, which culminated in the St Leger Steeplechase at Doncaster, and links with writers William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Bowen, there are also stories of one of the Lords of Doneraile having traveled to France to be cared for by Louis Pasteur, after being bitten by his pet fox who was traveling in his horse-drawn carriage. It is suspected that he actually died of rabies.
It was also home to the only female Freemason at the time, the Honorable Elizabeth St Leger, who generated considerable worldwide interest among Masonic scholars. In or around 1710, the Lady Freemason, as she is known, attended part of a Masonic ceremony at her home. The jury is still out on whether it was by accident or design, but she was introduced to the order by her father.