Saturday, 6 March 2021

Old Market House, Belfast

High Street and the Old Market House, Belfast, 1786 (Image: J W Carey). CLICK TO ENLARGE

AN ARTICLE BY ALISON MITCHELSON, FORMER ART UK PAINTINGS PROJECT COORDINATOR


"ONE of Belfast’s most prized art collections – the famous Carey paintings – a collection of thirteen large canvases dealing with the history and mythology of the Belfast region, originally located in the area above the Ulster Hall balcony, are now on permanent display for everyone to enjoy.

When Belfast Corporation, now Belfast City Council, took over the Ulster Hall in 1903, a full refurbishment and redecoration began.

The architect, Robert M Young, commissioned the artists Joseph W Carey and Richard Thomson to produce the paintings between 1903 and 1908.

Fondly known as ‘Joe’, Joseph W Carey (1859–1937) had a lengthy career as a popular water-colourist.

He was the son of a Moravian minister of Kilwarlin, County Down, the Rev J W Carey, and older brother of the painter and illustrator John Carey (1861–1943).

Also an illustrator, Joseph Carey trained with the firm of Marcus Ward and Co., Belfast.

High Street, Belfast, in 2021 (Image: Timothy Ferres)

The paintings were part of the decorative scheme and not that easy to see in their original position, nor were they intended to be viewed close up or as works of art.

They are not accurate representations of the time, but more a nostalgic view of a time when Belfast was a rural town rather than the booming industrial city it was at the beginning of the 20th century.

This was the most prestigious commission of Carey’s career and included the paintings Origin of Shipbuilding, Ritchie's Dock; White Linen Hall, 1896; Old Turnpike with Dublin Coach, Lisburn Road and Blockade of Belfast by François Thurot, 1760.

The paintings sadly suffered a lot of damage over the years, by leaks and the effect of bombs, but also by misguided attempts to restore them.

With the aid of a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant in 2009, Belfast City Council was able to conserve the paintings and relocate them to their current display, with very low light levels, in order that they will survive into the future."

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