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New 20th century Furniture Gallery

New 20th century Furniture Gallery

Is now opened to the public at the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History Collins Barracks, Dublin 7.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin - Emer Costello will view the recently opened new 20th century Furniture Gallery at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks today at 1.00pm. Located on the second floor, it features some of the very best in Irish furniture design. The concept of the gallery is to create room settings where various Irish designers will be represented, including Brendan Dunne, James Hicks, Frederick McManus, and where workshops, movements, and manufacturers, such as Kilkenny woodworkers’ workshops, will be displayed. Though a permanent gallery, the room settings will change over time to showcase some of the very best of Irish design. Offering an interesting contrast to the National Museum's exhibitions on Irish Country Furniture and Eileen Gray, this exhibition examines the history of 20th century Irish furniture, covering themes of the public taste, Irish émigrés, and the latest innovations of 1900, 1933, 1950, through to the present.

Admission is free to all Exhibitions.

For further press information please contact:

Maureen Gaule - Marketing Department, National Museum of Ireland

Tel: 01 - 648 6429 Mob: 087 2075133


Notes to the Editor

Frederick McManus (The Art Deco Room)

Irish furniture produced from the 1920s to the early 1940s still reflected the public taste for 19th styles. Political turmoil and economic hardship was not conducive to contemporary furniture design. Art Deco and International Modernism filtered through with the Irish émigré, such as Eileen Gray, who studied, worked or trained abroad. Frederick McManus from Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin initially had a prominent career as an architect. Training at first in Ireland, he worked under William L. Stoddart in New York in 1926, until later settling in London in 1927. There he came to prominence with the firm Tait and Lorne. MacManus came to the fore in post war Britain designing social housing and furniture for the modest budget. A kitchen and dining area which he designed in 1946 was exhibited at the ‘Britain Can Make It Exhibition’ in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition emphasised affordable goods and was a powerful statement by architects and designers in a country still scarred by war. In 1932-33 MacManus created a bedroom suite of veneered maple for his London home which was designed to complement the 1930 dressing table by Betty Joel. The bedside cupboards have a pink cellulosed finish. The wardrobe includes a detailed matt chrome escutcheon lock. The drawer unit features chrome plated drawer handles. The veneered fireplace housed a Ferranti heater. The tubular steel stool was made by the PEL firm. The tubular chrome wall lights were designed by Oswald Holman in 1930. Covered in a silver, textured wallpaper, the ceiling and the joinery were then painted in a matt pink. The floor rugs designed by his wife Norah MacManus, inspired by the work of American designer Edward McKnight Kauffer. Donated to the National Museum in 1984 it is the very essence of Art Deco design.

James Hicks (the Classical room)

The work of Dublin furniture-maker James Hicks was the antithesis of modernism due to his admiration of the Chippendale, Adams and Sheraton styles. After a brief spell in London he opened his business in 1894 with a workshop of 24 craftsmen, many of whom became famous in their own right.

Royal patronage came from King Edward VII and the Crown Princess of Sweden and the firm won many famous commissions. He is admired for his use of exotic woods, exceptional marquetry and veneering. Early work reflects 18th century Palladianism, featuring decorative shells, laurel swags, acanthus leaves, heavyset cabriole legs, and dominant paw feet. Hicks won many medals notably the Aonach Taitleann gold medal of 1928. Entering a satinwood display cabinet into the RDS Spring show, he won silver and discretely adhered the medal to the inner drawer. The firm represented Ireland’s craftsmanship at the New York World Trade Fair in 1939. One of the pieces exhibited was a satinwood table which Hicks originally made and signed in 1929. The President and Chairman of the fair sent a certificate to the Hicks’s firm conveying their appreciation of the substantial contribution that Hicks’s exhibit had made towards the success of the fair. Hicks sadly had died in 1936 and never received this accolade in person. Indubitably his style looks to past masters, yet “he never used a copy or a catalogue. Often, indeed, he rejected a lucrative commission rather than work from a design supplied to him.”

Brendan Dunne (the vignette with the orange floor and yellow walls)

In the late 1940s public taste had begun to change. The Irish Times reported that “there is a great deal that is good in contemporary furniture design. Only in the past few years that it has been possible to get furniture that is modern in conception.” The criticism was that quality pieces were costly and only for the discerning client. Designers such as Brendan Dunne, John Maguire and Barney Heron became known for modern furniture design. Dunne exhibited his furniture regularly, and advertised in the newspapers. Originally from Dublin he was a musical prodigy writing a pianoforte at age eleven. He studied composition at Army School of Music in London, and gained a Bachelors in Music from University College Dublin. Settling in Dublin in the 1930s a musical career did not provide an adequate income. Since the age of seventeen Dunne had taught himself furniture design. In 1951 he set up a large factory and workshop with his partner Michael McMullin. They had a common dislike for 18th and 19th century reproduction furniture. Their workshop employed twenty four. His furniture was Scandinavian inspired through the use of tapered and splayed legs. He compared woods to musical notes, oak suggested the key of ‘C’ major and his oak dining suite he called the ‘C’ major suite. While a mahogany bedroom suite is called the ‘A’ minor. Dunne said that “Designing furniture is like composing music you must bring to each a sense of rhythm and line and good workmanship.”

The Contemporary Vignette: 20th-21st century furniture

Since the 1980s contemporary design has come a long way. Working with ecologically friendly materials, designers and crafts people embrace innovative designs using traditional tools and techniques. In recent times Nest Furniture Design created the ‘Gabriel’ sideboard, cast in 'jesmonite,' a water based and environmentally friendly composite. John Lee’s ‘Carraigeen’ chest of drawers is inspired by the natural landscape. Its textured surface is achieved by hand shaping and carving which is finished by the piece being grit blasted with copper slag. Using traditional cabinetmaking techniques, Klimmek and Henderson designed a shelf unit made from American cherry with blue cobalt glass shelves. Zelouf and Bell’s ‘Drum’ cabinet combines carefully chosen materials with high levels of craftsmanship. Others look to country furniture, giving them a novel twist. Sasha Sykes’s ‘Carlow’ chair is a modern twist on the traditional ‘Sligo’ or ‘Tuam’ chair. Joseph Walsh’s sculptural ‘Suaimhneas’ chair explores the rocking chair in a contemporary context

  • Images available upon request.

Available for Interview

  • Dr Patrick Wallace – Director – National Museum of Ireland
  • Jennifer Goff – Curator of Furniture and Eileen Gray collections at the National Museum of Ireland
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