West, Robert (d. 1790), stuccodore and Dublin property developer, was probably born in Dublin between c.1720 and 1730. His family background and early life is unknown but it is possible that he was descended from a long line of Dublin-based builders and artisans such as the plasterer Richard West and the bricklayer Edward West, who were both made freemen of the city of Dublin in 1681. Robert West was established in his trade by c.1750, as he was made a freeman in 1752. John West, his brother, who was also a plasterer and builder, became a freeman in 1758. Robert is described variously throughout his life as master builder, plasterer, and merchant, and lived at addresses in Dublin including Lime St., Moore St., and Lower Abbey St.
West is often confused with Robert West (qv) (d. 1770), artist and draughtsman, who lived in Dublin at the same time and was a teacher of applied arts such as stucco design as well as life drawing. Though there is no evidence that the two men were blood relatives, they would almost certainly have known of each other's work. Continental prints, showing ceiling designs by artists such as Bérain, Pineau, and Boucher, were commonly circulated among craftsmen and students in Dublin during the 1750s and ‘60s. Robert West the artist may have provided inspiration for some of the motifs (such as birds, swags, and musical instruments) used by West the stuccodore. The design and fixing of plasterwork was a complex collaborative venture involving many hands, and it is rarely possible to attribute plasterwork designs to a single artist. It is known that Robert worked alongside his brother John West and he would have required a team of assistants.
In December 1756 Robert was paid £534. 8s. 8d. by the board of the newly founded Rotunda Hospital for ‘cornishes & plaistering’ (Rotunda Hospital archive, ledger 1756). It would appear that he was responsible for the decoration of the ceilings above the main staircase and the plasterwork in most of the principal rooms. This contract, for such a high-profile public building, suggests that West must have already been well regarded by the mid 1750s. But it is revealing that the founders of the hospital selected a foreigner, Bartholomew Cramillion, to carry out the decoration of the chapel between 1755 and 1760. The stunning example of Cramillion's stucco design, especially the use of human figures and tree branches in high relief, may have given West inspiration for his plasterwork after 1756. The Lafranchini brothers, Paolo (qv) and Filipo (qv), who worked in Dublin houses between c.1745 and 1760, may also have had an impact on West's designs.
Robert was a property developer as well as a stuccodore, which provided a ready-made market for his team of plaster workers. In 1757 he leased two adjacent plots on what is now Lower Dominick St. The surviving plaster work in number 20, which is attributed to West and his circle, is among the most daring rococo plasterwork to be found anywhere in Ireland. Menacing birds perch on pedestals, and naturalistic busts of girls, sea-pieces, and bowls of flowers are sculpted with great sensitivity. West is associated with the plasterwork in about ten town houses in Dublin such as 4 and 5 Rutland (latterly Parnell) Square and 86 St Stephen's Green. All of these interiors date from c.1756 to 1765. West is not connected to any plasterwork between 1765 and his death in 1790. Perhaps he became too preoccupied with property speculation. Deeds show that in the 1760s and early 1770s he bought and sold various parcels of land (up to twenty-seven acres) in the city and county of Dublin. Another possible explanation is that West was less interested in the more formal Adam style that was in vogue after 1770.
The West circle of stuccodores was instrumental in encouraging imaginative rococo plasterwork in Ireland during the 1750s and 1760s. West was a magpie in terms of style and deployed elements of the chinoiserie (winged dragons and ho-ho birds) alongside the more conventional swirling acanthus leaves commonly found on contemporary continental prints. Indeed, this eclectic mix can be seen in many Dublin town houses and in country houses as far afield as Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh. There are also some similarities between the rococo plasterwork interiors attributed to West in Dublin and those by Thomas Stocking, an Irishman who worked in the Bristol and Bath areas during the 1760s.
West was the first Irish-born stuccodore of any note at a time when it was common for foreigners (especially Italians and Germans) to clinch the most lucrative contracts for plasterwork. From 1760 the example of artisans such as Robert West, as well as the work of the fledging Dublin Society Drawing Schools in promoting applied arts, helped pave the way for a new breed of native craftsmen. Michael Stapleton (qv), the Irish stuccodore who worked in the Adam style, was a friend and sole executor of Robert. West died in Dublin in 1790. He is not known to have married.