National Gallery of Ireland: A Visit to the Milltown Wing - Open House Dublin 2022
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National Gallery of Ireland: A Visit to the Milltown Wing

The National Gallery of Ireland holds a large collection of art in its various wings which stretch between the original entrance on Merrion Square and the Millennium Wing on Clare Street – two distinctly different faces looking out to the city. From whichever entrance you prefer, make your way through the building to the Irish Rooms (14-20) on the ground floor, or the Dutch and Spanish Rooms (37-43) on the first floor above. You will find yourself in the Milltown Wing. This was the second wing of the Gallery and was built at the turn of the 20th century and completed in 1903. The architects of this wing were Thomas Newenham Deane (1828-1899) & Son, completed by the son, Thomas Manly Deane (1851-1933), after the passing of his father. The Deanes were also the architects of the National Museum and the National Library, all situated in the so-called ‘cultural cluster’ of Dublin. Due to their involvement across these buildings there are a few ways in which they tie together stylistically and materially.

In the external porch of the Merrion Square entrance, which was built at the same time as this wing, there is a mosaic with simple decorative borders and colour scheme. It had the hopeful date of opening 1902 though this part building was not fully complete until 1903. This kind of decoration is also employed in the entrance spaces of the Museum and Library, be sure to remember to look down when visiting them too. The porch of the Gallery has four block-rusticated columns alternating a creamy Portland stone and grey granite. The upper floor has a three-arched arcade with circular windows, and four banded and festooned columns also of Portland stone – look out for various fruits like pomegranates carved into these too.

Porch Mosaic
Processed with VSCO with f1 preset
Carved doorway showing fruit, vases, and decorative designs Carved doorway with a lion in the center surrounded by decorative detail Carved doorframe with a bird on top and various flowers and vases underneath A carved wood panel with paint pallet, brushes, artists tools Carved wooden panel with an instrument and sheet music

Inside this part of the Gallery, there is a series of rooms connected by open doorways called an enfilade. On the ground floor, the rooms are lit from the side and polygonal in shape. According to Deane, this form was suggested by the Director at the time, Walter Armstrong (1850–1918), to avoid dark corners which would not look well when viewing paintings. Between the rooms take a look at the carved walnut doorways. They have many panels full of ornamentation – some of the decorative motifs are reoccurring but each panel is unique. There are many birds, dolphins, flowers, fruits, and foliage carved into them, as well as, on the ground floor, small displeased-looking faces called grotesques. On the first floor look out for smaller square panels which have items relating to the arts and sciences carved into them such as musical instruments or artists’ tools. The thirty-three doorways were carved in Siena, Italy, by Carlo Cambi and sent to Ireland to be installed in the Gallery. The National Museum and Library also have some Cambi features like doorways and fireplaces, another material link between the institutions. The Italian connection was brought about through T.M. Deane’s travelling student scholarship which he documents with many sketchbooks in the Prints and Drawings collection in the Gallery. There are also many fascinating drawings by Deane of the decorative doorways and these can be viewed in the archive or on the online collection


May this Open House weekend be an opportunity to take a moment to look beyond the art on the walls to the walls and building itself.

Contributed by: 

Aoife-Marie Buckley

National Gallery of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin Doctoral Fellow



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