The Irish party house of art and rock’n’roll
a contemporaneous Freud in the flesh, one would need to venture to the National Portrait Gallery, where, in Room 31, hangs a portrait of Lady Caroline Blackwood, Browne’s cousin. The picture’s arrival has sent goosebumps around Sotheby’s. “When you have colleagues coming up to you because they haven’t seen anything like it, then you know it’s special.”
Luggala, where Freud worked his magic, was a Guinness house from 1912, when it was let to Arthur Ernest Guinness, second son of Edward Guin- ness, 1st Earl of Iveagh. His three daughters, Aileen, Maureen, and Oonagh, were known by some as the “Golden Guinness Girls”, who used Luggala as something of a party house. In 1925, the poet Brian Howard was invited to stay. He described it as “the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. A tiny little house on the edge of a great lake with huge feathery mountains towering all around.”
The house itself – modest, with seven bedrooms, a hunting lodge more than a stately home – is unusual in appearance. It was described in 1965 by the 29th Knight of Glin as an example of “that special brand of 18thcentury gothick that rejoices in little battlements, crockets… and ogee mantelpieces… the gothick of pastry cooks and Rockingham china.” As Robert O’Byrne, author of Luggala Days, notes, this style in England “came to be called Strawberry Hill Gothic, after Strawberry Hill, the Twickenham villa built by Horace Walpole”.
In 1937, the Guinnesses bought Luggala outright, and later Oonagh inherited it. After her father’s death in 1949 and two divorces Oonagh was, for the first time, an independent woman. She made Luggala the centre of her world, drawing Irish society figures, writers, artists and politicians into its fold. The 2nd Earl of Gowrie, a former Sotheby’s chairman, was one such guest, in August 1962. “I hid out there for about a fortnight with Oonagh, Caroline Blackwood [Oonagh’s niece] and the painter Michael Wishart,” he says. “The drinking started about 10am, and went on until 11pm.”
Lord Gowrie was not alone in signing Oonagh’s packed visitors’ book. The politician Woodrow Wyatt spent a week there in December 1957; the following Christmas, so too did the writer Cyril Connolly. The actress Anjelica Huston and her parents John and Ricki were frequent guests, as was Patrick Cockburn, the veteran foreign correspondent, whose parents were friends of Oonagh’s.
He remembers Luggala well. “The house looked like a white Christmas cake at the end of the valley – there were tall trees before you got to it, and then this lake with silvery sand and brown water. You got the same water in the house, so the bath water was brown.” It was a place of excess: “There were bottles of Malvern water in the bedrooms. Given that Ireland is not unsupplied with water, I thought that was an incredible example of luxury.”
And then there was Freud. He first stayed at Luggala in 1948 with his first wife, Kitty. When he married Lady Caroline Blackwood in 1953, the pair became frequent guests, and it was in the Fifties that Freud met Browne. “They had this synergy between them, this bohemian outlook on life,” adds Sotheby’s Eddison.
Freud’s finished picture of Browne hung at Luggala for Browne’s whole life; in 1970 he became a custodian of the property, continuing its legacy as a hub of creatives. It was used to film scenes in the films Braveheart and Excalibur, hosted parties with bands such as the Rolling Stones, and in 2006, Michael Jackson rented it out. Bono, the lead singer of U2, described the home as an “inspiration”.
In the year since Browne’s death, there has been discussion about what should be done with Luggala. The house and 5,000-acre estate are on the market with Sotheby’s International Realty for €28million (£24million), and it can be rented for €20,000 a week.
There have been calls in Ireland for the state to buy the house to save it for heritage, although minister of state Michael Ring said the country “doesn’t have that kind of money”.
When Head of a Boy sells on Tuesday, it is not just the picture that the buyer will take home, but a snippet of storied family history – a piece of Luggala, the great Guinness party house.