Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

National Gallery of Ireland & National Museum, Dublin, 5.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 6, 2010

This morning we walked downtown to the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Archaeological Museum, enjoying the crisp sunshine and the quiet streets.  In Baggot Street there are sculptures to admire, and also beautiful flower boxes on the Georgian houses that line this part of town.  Many of the houses have very impressive front doors, so much so that tourists can buy table mats that feature ‘the doors of Dublin’ (though one taxi driver told us that the reason they are all painted different colours is that when in the past they were all painted black, a drunk couldn’t distinguish which one was his, so now they are all the colours of the rainbow.)  The letter boxes, however, are shamrock green, not the pillar-box red that seem to be the norm everywhere else.  (I think we can guess why this is so in Ireland.)

Also, for the first time in my life, I saw locks.  There is a small canal nearby and these locks manage the flow of water as it flows downstream.   Locks have intrigued me ever since I read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, (which tells the story of their journey along the Thames between Kingston and Oxford in the 19th century) but I have never seen one and never really understood how they worked.  I was amused by the sign warning passers-by not to swim…

En route, we visited the Merrion Square park, in search of the Oscar Wilde statue.  Dublin is full of sculptures of its famous men and women, and remarkably they are all recognisable representations of the subject.  Even when the statue surmounts allegorical whatnot, as some of them do on O’Connell St, the statue still looks like its subject.   It must be city policy to ensure that the statues can be identified by ordinary people, but if contemporary Irish sculptors are anything like those we have in Melbourne, I bet they don’t like it and would rather do something more abstract…


Before long we were at the National Gallery and it is wonderful.  Taking photos is, of course, not allowed (except in this little space between the galleries) so I can’t show you any of the wonderful paintings we saw in the special exhibition of the ‘rediscovered’  master of the Golden Age of Dutch painting’  Gabriel Metsu, but you should get some idea from this link.  He was a contemporary of Vermeer and scholars like to quarrel about who influenced whom, but who cares, his paintings were wonderful.  I like these so-called genre paintings because they are full of intriguing details like little foot-warmers or a lady’s mules tossed off beside her bed.  He paints a lot of dogs too, big ones and little ones, and many of game birds, but no cats, not as far as I could tell in what is quite an extensive collection.

There is also often a little story behind the image, as with the two adjacent paintings of a man writing a letter and his lady-love receiving it.  We know that the letter is a love-letter because there is a painting behind the seated young man and the frame is decorated with doves, and we can tell that the letter she’s received is a love-letter because her serving woman has pulled aside a curtain covering a painter of a ship on stormy waters.  This was apparently a common allegory for the travails of love in those days!

The gallery also has a very good collection of other Dutch painters, a Caravaggio and heaps of his ‘school’, some very fine 18th and 19th century portraiture, allegorical and religious paintings, and scenes of rural life.  One particularly striking (and very large) painting was of some street urchins playing at soldiers.  I think it was called The Military Parade, or something like that, and it was a very powerful satire on the pomp and ceremony of the British occupation. I wish I’d written down the artist’s name…

After a cup of tea, we then set off for the Archaeological Museum, round the corner in Kildare St.  It isn’t huge, but that’s because they have split the collection between four separate museums.  We didn’t have time to visit them all so we chose the most interesting…

It features a wonderful collection of prehistoric finds from the Bronze Age, and there are numerous cabinets showcasing hoards of weaponry and metalwork that show the sophistication of Irish craftsmen in this period.  The prehistoric gold collections are breath-taking: fabulous necklets and bracelets, clothing clasps and so on…most impressive of all are a set of massive hollow golden balls, bigger than tennis balls, each with a hole through it so it is believed they were strung together as a kind of necklace. 

Once again we weren’t allowed to take any pictures, and sadly the website is a bit mean about sharing any images, so the only picture I have is of Tim outside on the steps –   wearing his new Irish cap.  I’m sure it is some kind of joke they play on unwitting tourists because it is constructed with a medley of different tartans….

Our adventures in Dublin have come to an end now for we are off to Bordeaux tomorrow.  Thanks to a flight cancellation by Aer Lingus we will be spending much of the day at Gatwick so there won’t be any updates tomorrow…

5 Responses to “National Gallery of Ireland & National Museum, Dublin, 5.10.10”

  1. The Irish painting that so caught your eye in Room 18 on Level 1 of the National Gallery is called ‘Military Manoeuvres’, 1891 by Richard Moynan.

    We hope you revisit the gallery the next time you are in Dublin.

    Darrina Galligan
    Acting Visitor Services Officer
    National Gallery of Ireland

  2. My father has a mixed tartan hat just like that. It’s rather nice I think!

    BTW That statue made me laugh…it has a certain je ne sais quoi, doesn’t it, lolling there on top of the rock.

  3. Louise said

    Oh how much do I hate that statue of Oscar? So awful. Could they have made him look any less ridiculous? An odd way to treat a national icon I think. I too laughed at the don’t swim in the locks signs. As if you’d want to.

  4. […] in her twenties, experiences it on a bright sunny day in Merrion Square (just like the day when I visited myself in 2010, so this passage sent a chill down my spine) […]

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