Treasures From the Collection of the Earls of Leitrim at Killadoon

Treasures From the Collection of the Earls of Leitrim at Killadoon

The 2020 instalment of Royal & Noble will provide another exciting opportunity to acquire works from important aristocratic collections sourced throughout Europe.
The 2020 instalment of Royal & Noble will provide another exciting opportunity to acquire works from important aristocratic collections sourced throughout Europe.

O n first impressions, Killadoon presents itself as a rather nondescript Georgian villa, not untypical of buildings from this period of Irish architecture. However, the plain exterior of Killadoon – encased in a harling render neatly punctuated with windows - belies the rich interiors beyond its pedimented doorway. Here we discover rooms layered in history and largely undisturbed by the ravages of time.

The house was built by Robert Clements (1732-1804), later 1st Earl of Leitrim, between 1767-1771 and its contents, coupled with detailed inventories dating back to 1807, chart the changing tastes and fortunes of its inhabitants. That the house was built at all owes a great deal to the glittering career of Robert’s father, Nathanial Clements (1705-1777). His rise from ‘obscurity to opulence’ was perhaps a little overstated during his lifetime – his earliest known ancestor was ‘a substantial Leicestershire yeoman living early in Elizabeth’s reign’ – although this does little to undermine his extraordinary achievements. After succeeding his brother to a tellership in the Irish Treasury – a role secured through his father’s connections – Nathaniel rose steadily through the ranks and went on to strengthen his political aspirations by marrying Hannah Gore on 31 January 1730. The Gore dynasty were extremely influential in the Irish political sphere; indeed, Hannah’s uncle was Sir Ralph Gore, 4th Bt., Speaker in the House of Commons whose equestrian portrait by Thomas Spencer is offered in the sale. Nathaniel himself became a Member of Parliament for Duleekin 1727.

Portrait of Robert Clements, later 1st Earl of Leitrim (1732-1804) by Pompeo Batoni, painted in Rome in 1754 © Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

Nathaniel’s indefatigable zeal to better himself saw him accrue a staggering range of positions during his lifetime including, inter alia, a Deputy Vice-Treasureship (1755-1777); agency for the pensioners; private banker to almost every Lord Lieutenant in the land (1749-77); clerk of the wool accounts (1720-48); searcher, packer and gauger of Dublin Port (1738-77); deputy constable of Dublin Castle (1736-77); customer and collector of Carrickfergus (1742-8); and perhaps most famously, Ranger of Phoenix Park (1751-77). Not all these roles were financially lucrative, but the political advantages they afforded ultimately allowed Nathaniel to pursue a further career as a property magnate and amateur architect with developments on Henrietta Street, Sackville Street and of course Ranger’s Lodge in Phoenix Park (now the official residence of the President of Ireland) to his name, as well as an 85,000-acre estate in Counties Leitrim, Donegal and Cavan.

The Clementses cultivated a reputation as lavish hosts, entertaining the great and the good of English and Irish nobility at their numerous residences. Notable dignitaries included the Duke and Duchess of Bedford who visited Ranger’s Lodge in 1758 and Duchess of Northumberland who went to dinner several times in 1763.

Unsurprisingly, Nathaniel had little time to travel outside of Ireland and it was left to his sons, Robert (the builder of Killadoon) and Henry Theophilus Clements (d. 1795), to procure foreign works of art for their father on their respective Grand Tours. Henry writes to his father from Rome in September 1769, explaining had he ‘wanted anything else from hence or Florence in the ornamental or table way, I could have wished to have received your orders, as the antiquarian with whom I have studied is extremely clever and would have procured them very reasonably’.

Nathaniel was evidently a collector of some note. His collections of silver, statuary and furniture (including a now lost scagliola top by Don Petro Belloni) are well documented. Whether some of the earlier items at Killadoon were originally intended for one of their other principal houses is impossible to determine, but it is conceivable the magnificent panels by Antoine-Marie Melotte (1722-1795) were acquired by Nathaniel as they were moved from Sackville Street in circa 1829.

Robert Clements was himself an important collector and, as his portrait by Pompeo Batoni suggests, considered himself to be something of a connoisseur. Robert’s illuminating journal from his 1753/54 Grand Tour documents journeys between the great cities of Italy (Milan, Bologna, Rome, Naples, etc.), with visits to Palazzo Farnese and countless others leaving a lasting impression. It is likely the wonderful group of Italian bronzes and maiolica dishes were acquired as souvenirs during this time.

Robert also followed in his father’s political footsteps and was elected to the Irish House of Commons for Donegal County in 1765. In that same year he married Lady Elizabeth Skeffington, eldest daughter of Clotworthy Skeffington, 1st Earl of Massereene. Having been appointed Governor of Counties Leitrim and Donegal in 1777 and 1781 respectively, Clements was ennobled as Baron Leitrim in 1783. He was subsequently advanced to a Viscountcy in 1794, and the following year was created Earl of Leitrim. The crested mahogany hall chairs and Chinese Export blue and white dinner service (lot 40) were probably supplied shortly thereafter.hinese Export blue and white dinner service (lot 40) were probably supplied shortly thereafter.

Robert initially rented a small property on the site of Killadoonin 1765 from Thomas Conolly of nearby Casletown. Attracted by its close vicinity to Dublin, Robert shunned taking on the Ranger’s Lodge, much to his father’s displeasure, opting instead for the bucolic surroundings of Killadoon. Once he had secured a lease, Robert set about building a modest Georgian villa to house his collection. The earliest inventories of its contents date to 1807 – a few years after his death – but reveal the restrained nature of the 1st Earl’s interiors, with the famous Roubiliac bust of Lord Chesterfield, a picture by Claude Lorraine and Etruscan vases undoubtedly vestiges from his tenure at the house.

The 1st Earl died in 1804 in London, at the age of 71. By the time his son, Nathaniel (1768-1854), ascended as 2nd Earl, the Clementses were firmly ensconced in Irish nobility. The appearance of the house, as presented here owes much to the 2nd Earl and his wife Mary Clements (née Bermingham) (c. 1785-1840). Mary was one of the Bermingham sisters, who travelled extensively and were much celebrated for their intelligence and beauty. Mary’s sister, Alice, married Francis Caulfield, 2nd Earl Charlemont and was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence (an unfinished portrait by Lawrence of her second daughter, Lady Emily Caulfield, is offered in the sale and a Breguet gold watch acquired in Paris by Countess Alice Charlemont in 1815 is also included).

Although the pair married in 1804 it was not until around 1811, once Nathaniel Clements had left the army, that the couple settled in Killadoon. As far as Nathaniel was concerned the house left a lot to be desired and consequently undertook two major phases of redecoration; the first between 1805-1810 and the second between 1825-1835. With the work complete, Nathaniel writes to his son in 1835, commenting ‘it is now in a very different state from what it was when I first went to live there’. The 1836 inventory, compiled by Countess Leitrim, bears testimony to this. The cool Regency interiors described in the 1806 and 1812 inventories have given way to densely filled rooms of the late William IV/early Victorian era. The Entrance Hall and Library are now crammed with curios such as ‘fossil Elk’s horns’, ‘glass cases of stuffed birds’, fragments of ‘marble from the temple Jupiter Olympus at Athens’ and ‘Ancient Irish bronzes found in the bogs’.

The early 1820s were challenging times for the Clementses, with economic woes in Ireland resulting in unpaid rents. In 1820 they travelled to Rome and then France where they stayed until 1823. It was whilst in Rome that they acquired the magnificent pietre dure top which was mounted in the Entrance Hall on ‘marble brackets sculptured by Steward in Dublin’. A tantalizing scrap book of supplier’s bill-heads in the Killadoon archive reveals the Clementses were commissioning furnishings from the best London and Dublin firms of the day. Robson and Hale supplied wallpaper in 1810, Hancock & Rixon light fixtures in 1825 and Dublin cabinet-makers Williams & Gibton supplied furniture in 1833.

On the death of Countess Leitrim in 1840 the 2nd Earl appears to have retreated from polite society and any new initiatives at Killadoon would have been at the behest of his sister-in-law, Lady Charlemont. The fortunes of the family begin to take a turn for the worst when William Sydney Clements, 3rd Earl of Leitrim (1806–1878) inherits in 1854. Dubbed ‘the wicked Earl’, he was assassinated in 1878 after several attempts on his life by disgruntled tenants. Evidently the house was little changed under the 3rd Earl’s time who shut up most of the building occupying only a few rooms.

Mrs Henry Clements, whose husband inherited Killadoon, remarked that the house was ‘just the same [as it was] years ago, the pictures, furniture, books and objects of art all in their old places’. And it was in these ‘old places’ that most of the collection was to remain until the present day, affording each object a rare state of preservation. The time has now come for the collection to be enjoyed anew as these extraordinary items leave the care of the Earls of Leitrim to enter the homes of equally passionate collectors.

English Furniture

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