Crawford Gallery Cork

When I travel I seek out museums and galleries to explore. This is a relatively new thing, when I was young I rarely visited museums, and if I did, they were places like the Smithsonian Air & Space museum, or the Hirschhorn Sculpture garden. It’s not like I hadn’t seen the Masters works, I just burned out on the religious themes and darkness of them all. This was all before I met my wife Amy who has spent the past 35 years surreptitiously trying to broaden my appreciation of arts. I think the turning point came, when on vacation in New England, Amy introduced me to the work of John Singer Sargent and Gustav Klimt and I was hooked. I still avoid the dark religious themes of the world going to hell, we are experiencing it first hand, no need to look at it in a painting.

On this trip I visited the Crawford Gallery, the former Customs House in Cork. Crawford Art Gallery is an institution dedicated to the visual arts. A collection of over 3,000 works spans 18th-century Irish and European painting and sculpture  to contemporary video installations. The heart of the collection is Greek and Roman sculpture casts, brought to Cork 205 years ago from the Vatican Museum.

There were two exhibits in particular I wanted to view, Recasting Canova and Rita Duffy’s works, Persistent Illusion. Duffy is one of the major contemporary artists to emerge from Northern Ireland. Blending  a thread of Irish identity, autobiographical elements, history, and politics, her work is visually compelling, humorous, cynical and challenging to view.

The sculptural exhibit, Recasting Canova, has an interesting and convoluted history. In 1797 the treaty of Tolentino was agreed to between the Papal States and France, a treaty allowing France to confiscate artworks including famed ancient sculptures. The sculptures were then installed in the Musee du Louvre in Paris. After Napoleon’s fall, Pope Pius VII affected the return of the art to Rome. The Pope commissioned sculptor Antonio Canova to oversee the creation of 200 sculptural casts as a thank you to the Prince Regent (later King George IV) for Britain’s role is defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. Molds were taken directly from the marble sculptures to produce the reproductions in plaster. The pieces were stored at the Customs House in London, eventually offered to the Royal Academy, which declined the gift for lack of space. Word got to William Hare who at the time was president of the Cork Society for Promoting Fine Arts. Hare approached the Prince Regent and asked the casts be gifted to Cork. The Prince agreed and in November 1818, the casts arrived in Ireland. Over the years, due in part to the fragile nature of plaster and negligence on the part of some of the curators, the casts suffered varying degrees of damage. Restoration of the pieces was done during the 1990s. Recasting Canova is the ambitious outcome celebrating the reproduction of 12 significant works of Ancient Greece and Roman sculpture. (Source: Crawford Gallery)

William Crawford, Benefactor

Bathing Venus, Goddess Concordia and Mother of Napoleon the Great

Socrates Bust, Belvedere Torso

Back of Belvedere Torso, Adonis and Piping Faun in background

Using Format