Trompe-l oeil of a Letter-rack – Strickland Lowry

Strickland Lowry

Painting, Trompe-l oeil of a Letter-rack | Strickland Lowry (fl.1737-1785) (attrib.) | Oil on Canvas | 18th century | The Hunt Collection | PD HCP 006

Trompe-l’oeil was popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It alludes to the illusionist effect of simulating three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface. Samuel van Hoogstraten’s (1627-78) Trompe-l’oeil of a letter-rack of 1670 in the Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, Germany, depicting letters and jewellery secured by tape to a board is a precedent for this picture. 

Stickland Lowry (1737-85) was an important painter of Trompe-l’oeil in eighteenth-century Ireland. Born in Whitehaven Cumbria he worked in Staffordshire, Shropshire, Dublin and particularly the North of Ireland. He is known to have completed three Trompe-l’oeil paintings of engravings pinned to boards: Reynolds’ mezzotint of the first Duke of Leinster, Nathaniel Hones ‘Spartan Boy’ and a third entitled ‘Lowery” a possible self-portrait, are clearly related to this work.

A tentative attribution of this picture to Lowry is based on the style of these, together with a still life of a violin, sheets of music and a flute signed and dated ‘1776’. His earliest documented portrait in Ireland, that of the Cobbe children of Arebridge, is dated 1765. While his Leinster mezzotint was published in 1775. The envelope in this work, inscribed ‘To Mrs Grady of Elton’ probably refers to Mary Hungerford who married Standish Grady in 1737. The family owns Elton in East Limerick and was living in Cappercullen (now Glenstal) in 1759. It would be tempting to suggest that the sportsman in the watercolour was Grady!

National Gallery of Ireland ID: 8131