His best-known design was the so-called ‘aerial chariot’, a boat-like shaped plane built in 1854 featuring a patented propeller Swifte termed the ‘aerial screw’.
This dubious invention was tested at Foulksrath Castle in Kilkenny with Swifte’s gardener installed behind the controls. The contraption was pushed off the battlements and promptly nosedived to the ground. The pilot broke his leg, and the remains of Swifte’s failed plane – a wooden propeller and wheel – can be seen today at the Rothe House Museum in Kilkenny.
A life-size portrait depicting Swifte standing by his horse with Foulksrath Castle in the distance took €14,000 (£12,200) – nearly triple the top estimate – in the Fonsie Mealy (22% buyer’s premium) auction held at a hotel in Tullow, Co Carlow.
The picture formed part of this April 16 sale of the contents of Fortgranite, an 18th century country estate in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, and the former home of the late Captain Piers Dennis, who died in 2016.
The Dennis family, occupants of Fortgranite for over 200 years, were originally Swifts (Swifte was an early spelling) and were related to both Godwin Swifte and Jonathan Swift, best known as the author of Gulliver’s Travels. The family changed their name to Dennis to inherit a property in the 1780s.
Buyer takes all
The 341-acre estate was sold last year. The contents offered by Fonsie Mealy amounted to around 860 lots. Almost all found new homes, down to the curtain poles. Portraits of the Swift family amounting to 20 lots in all – many by unknown hands – were purchased by a single Irish buyer, according to the Irish Times.
Selling for €6000 (£5200) against a €700-1000 estimate was a late-18th or early-19th century portrait of Esther Johnson (1681-1728), who still causes intense debate as to whether she and the author Jonathan Swift were secretly married. This elegant 2ft 6in x 2ft 1in (77 x 64cm) oil on canvas showed the sitter in a blue dress and red veil.
Known as ‘Stella’, she was described by Swift as the “most beautiful, graceful and agreeable young woman in London” and moved to Ireland to live in Swift’s house.
He published her witticisms under the title Bon Mots de Stella as an appendix to Gulliver’s Travels, and his Journal to Stella, a collection of 65 letters, was published posthumously.
The top picture price was not paid for a Swift portrait, however, but came from the Stratford branch of the family, through which Fortgranite had been attained by marriage in 1810.
An attractive three-quarter-length portrait attributed to the Irish painter James Latham (1696- 1747), once dubbed ‘Ireland’s Van Dyck’, led the way. The 4ft 1in x 3ft 4in (1.26 x 1.03m) portrait of Lady Maria Stratford, daughter of the Irish peer and politician 1st Earl of Aldborough, sold to a bidder on the phone for €16,000 (£14,000), nearly three times the top guide.
Also offered was a similar-sized 18th century portrait by one of Latham’s lesser-known contemporaries, Philip Hussey (1713-83), depicting Maria’s older brother Edward Stratford, who succeeded his father’s title and built the famous Dublin landmark Aldborough House.
It took €8000 (£7000) against a €4000-6000 estimate.
£1 = €1.15