In 1995, while the Patents Office was still in occupancy, a robbery occurred at 45 Merrion Square and a number of chimneypieces were removed from the building. Included with those taken were three that had been noted by Alison Kelly in her 1965 history of decorative Wedgwood.
‘There are three chimney-pieces inset with Wedgwood plaques at No 45 Merrion Square set in the very simple marble surrounds of the turn of the [nineteenth] century. One of them has, instead of a rectangular fire-opening, the ogee line which was popular in France and infrequently used in Great Britain… The plaques are blue and green used together, for two chimney-pieces, and one entirely green.’
Alison Kelly, Decorative Wedgwood in Architecture and Furniture (London, 1965)
One of these Wedgwood chimneypieces, that featuring the life of Achilles, had been illustrated in the Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration in Dublin (vol. IV, plate 94 (Dublin, 1909)) and photographs of all three were included by Kelly in her book. The chimneypieces were also recorded by the Irish Architectural Archive when it carried out a photographic survey of No. 45 in 1986, a full decade before there was any suggestion that the house might one day become its home.
As Kelly noted, the style of the chimneypieces – plain, but in one case with the ogee flourish – was the product of a Dublin marble workshop responding to specifically local tastes. This combination of local craftsmanship and imported jasperware makes the chimneypieces significant in the history of interior decoration and design in late 18C Dublin. The motifs of the jasperware plaques featured scenes from Greek mythology, notably the life of Achilles, and Kelly suggested that this implies a post 1790 manufacture date. This in turn implies that the chimneypieces are original to the house, inserted during or shortly after construction c. 1795.
Somewhat miraculously, two of the stolen Wedgwood chimneypieces were recovered by An Garda Síochána, one rectangular and one ogee. (The whereabouts of third chimneypiece remains a mystery.) These were reinstated in No. 45 during the restoration of the house by the OPW for the Irish Architectural Archive from 2003 to 2004. However, due to the theft, they had sustained some damage to uprights, lintels and shelves, and between them had lost a total of six of their jasperware plaques.
In 2016, Maighread McParland, former Head of Conservation in the National Gallery of Ireland and an old friend of the Irish Architectural Archive, undertook a project to have the chimneypieces restored. She made contact with Wedgwood (now part of the Fiskars group of companies) and tenaciously pursued them until they found the original moulds for four of the missing plaques. With financial support from the Primrose Trust, the four new plaques were ordered.
Lorna Barnes, an experienced conservator, took on the task of reinserting the four plaques, and cleaning the chimneypieces. This work was completed during the first Covid-19 lockdown of 2020.
Wedgwood have been unable to find the moulds for the central oval plaques to each chimneypiece, but temporary copies of these are now in place pending the exploration of other options for their recreation. Meanwhile, the replacement of the other missing plaques has transformed the appearance of the chimneypieces, and indeed of the rooms they occupy. They shine once again as elegant decorative features in these light-filled spaces.
The Irish Architectural Archive is grateful to Maighread McParland, Primrose Wilson and Lorna Barnes for their help on this project.