As I stood next to the Golden Gates in the Botanic Gardens my mind was on the controversy over the cost of the restoration, the fact that it was too dark to get a good photograph, and how some of the gilding was (already?) coming off. Questions over the ethics of how Duncan made his money lurked uncharitably in the back of my mind. It was only after I got home that I began to think of the story of their making and about the incongruity of the setting as rather a romantic idea.
They were commissioned by merchant, philanthropist and art collector James Duncan, who unusually for the time the guidebook tells me, opened his art collection to the public. The wrought iron gates were made in Berlin and exhibited at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, as were some of his large art collection which included work by Caravaggio, Corot, Boudin, Rousseau, Renoir and the Impressionists.
I wonder what gave him the idea. The place is quite remote, the landscape dramatic and somewhat bleak in an Arthur Rackham kind of a way. (Duncan also had a house in London.) The telephone had just been patented, the phonograph invented and electric street lighting was being installed in London. The Bicycle Touring Club was established in England. It was the time of Ruskin and Ibsen, Zola, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens,
Apart from the obvious status of golden gates in the wild wood I wonder if there was also a touch of fantasy, whimsy and romance about the decision to have them made and installed. Benmore House itself has something of the fairy tale about it with turrets and pinnacles..
Next time I visit I will look with a less jaundiced view! I was after all supposed to be out to enjoy myself...