Change of Art
Several of her famous original social set including a former Taoiseach are dead but Noelle Campbell-Sharp is well and truly alive and kicking ass. The Charlie Haughey era is history but Noelle is the very present face of a successful Dublin art gallery and Kerry artists’ retreat. Today, that face is framed by green glasses and fiery red hair with a yellow flame curl. Just over 70 now, she still looks like Vivienne Westwood’s hotter sister. Noelle is getting ready for the next private view in her relocated Origin Gallery: “The key is attracting some of the brightest artists in the world.” Like its forerunner the gallery is in a Georgian townhouse. That’s where the similarity ends. The new gallery is… drummer boy roll for understatement… calmer. Wedgwood blue ceiling, navy carpets, white walls.
As for the original original Origin… ah, Noelle’s steamy love affair with Napoleon. Above the gallery, her library was a full blown homage to the homme. His heraldic birds and bees were sewn into the carpet and painted on the shutters while eagles balanced on the bookcase columns spreading their wings ever wider in a clockwise rhythm round the room. A double barrelled stripy fabric billowed from the ceiling like the sails of the French general’s ship. Among the miscellanea on display was an original drawing of the imperial arms of France. “What any French museum would give to get their hands on all this!” envied Karl Lagerfeld when he set eyes on the loot. A jib door in the trompe l’oeil wall led through to a bathroom decorated with the naughtiest mural in Dublin. It was enough to make sailors blush, although seemingly not the Napoleonic soldiers in action.
“I’ve fallen out with Napoleon. When I was a child I discovered tea chests in an attic brimming with his letters, jewels and toy soldiers. They sparked off my obsession. Actually I still sleep in an attic! I like to surround myself with antiquarian books. I can’t pass them by. WB Yeats, folklore, Empire period… maybe I am still just a bit in love…” Noelle is soldiering on with her autobiography. Five chapters completed so far. Counting Karl, Yves Saint Laurent and David Bailey among entries in her little black book; Robert Maxwell definitely not, he owed her £10 million before he toppled over portside; and with rock band manager, press baroness, socialite, arts patron and gallerist on her résumé, presumably there’s enough material for a few more chapters.
Noelle’s dashing. Tomorrow she’s off to Cill Rialaig, the deserted rural village she transformed into an artists’ retreat with the help of urbane architect Alfred Cochrane. “It’s on the last road in Ireland. New York is caviar compared to getting to Kerry!” That doesn’t stop artists coming from far and wide – Argentina, Italy, Russia and so on. “There’s a selection process,” Noelle reassures, “but really it’s down to whoever spins the best yarn.”