This week, we worked with Russborough House and The Alfred Beit Foundation to unveil the unique beauty of its newly restored Vernet Drawing Room. This carefully researched restoration project brings the room’s original vision to life, including the masterpiece paintings it was designed to display. After careful and lengthy restorations, the room will open to the public this summer. Russborough’s Drawing Room is the only one of its kind in Ireland to house the original works it was designed for.
Designed in an 18th century aesthetic, the Vernet Drawing Room offers a captivating vision of a bygone era. Conceived to display eight Times of the Day paintings by celebrated French artist Claude Joseph Vernet (1714 – 1789), the in-depth research and analysis involved in this project resulted in a complete understanding of the incredible drawing room and reinstated the unique vision for it.
As many as twelve paintings by Vernet featured in the Milltown collection. In 1827 eight paintings by Joseph Vernet are recorded in the Drawing Room, however, over time, all were dispersed from Russborough House. The four ovals, true masterpieces, completed at the height of Vernet’s artistic power in 1751 and undoubtedly the inspiration for the interior’s original creation, were sold in Paris in 1926. It took 16 years to trace the paintings and without the determination of Russborough’s last owners Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit, the restoration of this extraordinary room may never have happened.
The restoration project, led by historic interior designer Alec Cobbe and overseen by Russborough’s Head of Collections & Conservation, Pauline Swords, saw decorative work begin in November 2022. Based on the original painting hang of the room, the first task was to return the dramatic baroque ceiling and the walls to their earliest colour scheme of soft white distempers.
All four Vernet ovals required significant conservation treatment, including removal of yellowed varnish and poor overpainting from previous restoration, retouching and varnishing, along with repair and re-gilding of the frames undertaken by Alec Cobbe and his team. Next came the laborious and careful gilding of the stuccowork, completed by Restoration Artist, Theresa Cuddihy. It took over ten weeks to complete: three and a half weeks of prepping and sanding, one of painting, and a full six weeks to apply over 3500 sheets of 23.5 carat gold leaf by hand.
With the gilding work complete, the paintings re-hung and the elegant furnishings back in situ the Vernet Drawing Room is now restored to its original glory and open for public viewing.
Speaking about the restoration project, Russborough’s Head of Collections & Conservation, Pauline Swords, said, “A labour of love, passion and dedication, by everyone involved, this project can only be described as a revelation, quite literally. The long-anticipated renovation of the Vernet Drawing Room at Russborough has revealed something that has never been seen in our lifetime, with startling effect. Expertly restored to its original 18th Century design, this extraordinary room brings together a harmonious blend of craftsmanship, picture hang and iconic works, creating an experience unmatched anywhere in Ireland.”
This project is supported by The Apollo Foundation, Sheehan & Barry Architects and The Irish Georgian Society.