The recent Irish Art Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago provides a link to two Clan members who lived in 18th century Dublin; Charles and John Jr. Laughlin as well as providing a window towards 18th century Ireland.
The Dublin Guild of Goldsmiths was established in 1637 and there is a strong French-Huguenot artistic influence on two silver items which were crafted by Charles and John Jr. Laughlin during the 18th century.
Charles Laughlin‘s item at the Chicago display, consisted of Two Silver Candle Sticks from 1752, while the item crafted by John Laughlin Jr. – Covered Hot-Water Urn from 1770, as tea-drinking had become fashionable within Dublin society, from 1700 onwards. Other silver items crafted by those two Dublin silversmiths which were not displayed at the Chicago exhibition include:
- Silver Spoon Tray (1750) also associated with tea-drinking;
- George 111 Oval Shell-Handled Serving-Dish (1765);
- A Silver Circular Salver (1770).
This Georgian style of silverwork reached its pinnacle within the Dublin Guild of Silversmiths and was much sought after, even by London Silversmiths.
The skills associated with this high quality silver craftwork went into decline, particularly after the 1801 Act of Union, when London Silversmiths were permitted to place a tariff on silver items arriving over to London from both Dublin and Cork.
A Long Tradition
Looking at the history of Irish craftsmanship and metalwork in particular, this story provided through the 2015 Chicago Exhibition resonates back towards 800 BC, when the Gleninsheen gold collar was crafted and later rediscovered within a rock fissure in the Burren by local herdsman, Paddy Nolan in 1932 and is now housed within the ‘Treasures of Ireland’ at The National Museum, Kildare Street, Dublin. (See also the History page.)
While the 18th century witnessed an embargo on Catholics entering the professions or being permitted to bear arms, this embargo did not extend to the work of artisans or those who might wish to avoid taxes on various items, so that smuggling became more regular, particularly along the western and southern coasts of Ireland.
The story of Charles and John Jr. also provides a window on 18th century Ireland, as records of Clan members are so scarce during the period from 1690 to 1830, when laws were enacted to deprive the majority of an education or the possibility of advancement, as is common in today’s developed societies.
Regular recording of births did not become law within Ireland until 1864, hence the many notes of frustration, when trying to access Irish family records before that date.
Katharine Lochnan, Toronto
Irish Arts Review – 1987
Art Institute of Chicago