Alfred Beit Foundation statement on sale of paintings
Board: ‘The challenges in funding a house such as Russborough are immense’
Yew Court, Scalby, on a November night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893), one of the paintings from the Beit collection at Russborough House that was auctioned at Christies’s in London earlier this week.
Full statement by the board of the Alfred Beit Foundation
Wednesday June 17th, 2015
The Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF) is the owner of the relevant paintings at the centre of the current sales; these paintings were not left to the State by the Beits.
This is something which has been confused by commentary, which has also omitted that the Beits themselves sold artworks to assist in the upkeep of Russborough.
The Foundation, with regret and having first explored every other credible option, decided that the sale was the best strategic solution in the current circumstances.
This initiative will address definitively the identified need to secure a sufficient long-term income stream to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of Russborough House.
The Foundation engaged art advisers Christie’s to undertake the sale on behalf of the Foundation and is satisfied that, in preparation for that sale, Christie’s has appropriately obtained all necessary export licences for the paintings.
Since the announcement of the decision to dispose of some of the paintings owned by the Alfred Beit Foundation, the board has noted the concern and the comments that have been made by the media and the public.
It is understandable that the decision has been met by negative reaction. The board made its decision with great reluctance and can fully understand this reaction.
Before any sales plans were made, the perilous financial situation at Russborough was formally notified to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as well as to the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works.
The possibility of the State acquiring some of the ABF paintings was discussed, as well as mechanisms to enable donors to acquire the assets.
Other suggestions as to how the State could support Russborough were considered. Given its own serious financial demands, the State was not then in a position to assist and it has indicated that this continues to be the case.
The challenges in funding a house such as Russborough are immense. Russborough needs about €1 million every year to cover its operational costs, to maintain and restore the fabric of the house and improve the estate.
These funds have enabled the Russborough management to carry out major restorative works and to maintain the house in good order; this has been recognised even by our most ardent critics.
These restorative works were carried out under a Heritage Conservation Plan. However, there is still much to be done and the board of Russborough is currently preparing to guide the development of the estate over the next decade.
Despite the much improved visitor numbers and the continuing support of Faáilte Ireland and local regional tourist initiatives, the revenues that Russborough can earn from gate receipts, tours, shop, restaurant income and rents fall far short of Russborough’s annual operating costs.
The annual shortfall in terms of current expenditure remains high at around €400,000 per annum. In addition, there are many requirements for expenditure on the fabric of the house.
While Sir Alfred and Lady Beit were actively involved in the management of the Foundation, they very generously supported the ABF in addressing these shortfalls.
As late as 2005, Lady Beit gave her personal collection of Italian bronzes to the Foundation with specific instructions that they be sold to help defray the costs of keeping Russborough open. The monies raised supported Russborough through to 2013.
That year, and before any plans were made for sales and in the absence of other recurrent funding materialising, the board twice approached Government seeking support and highlighted the need to sell some of the ABF paintings should that support not be forthcoming.
The need to raise funds was also noted in the financial statements of the ABF.
The Foundation has looked to fundraising and philanthropy to address the funding crisis, and while it has had some success, it has been miniscule in the context of the obligations of Russborough.
Sir Alfred and Lady Beit would have wished for Russborough and its collection of paintings to have remained intact at Russborough, but events overtook that aspiration.
In 1986 a second violent robbery took place at Russborough and in 1987 Sir Alfred and Lady Beit donated the Beit Collection of 17 masterpieces to the National Gallery of Ireland.
These paintings are now the property of the State and of the people of Ireland. Through this gift of extraordinary generosity, the Beits ensured that their collection of masterpieces would remain intact. But two subsequent robberies mitigated against any valuable art being displayed at Russborough again.
The house, the estate and the wonderful collections of furniture, silver, porcelain, tapestries, clocks, other paintings and objects of art remain in the ownership of the ABF.
The Alfred Beit is a private foundation that is neither a museum nor a public collection. Russborough is a country estate and the principal asset of the Foundation. The board, both nominated and co-opted, are legally obliged to act in the Foundation’s best interests.
Given that the Beit Collection of Masterpieces is now safely in the ownership of the National Gallery of Ireland, the preservation of Russborough is central to the role of the Foundation.
The Beits were passionate about Russborough and its preservation is what the board believes the Beits would have wished for, even if that meant further disposals of artworks, as Lady Beit herself had approved in 2005.
In coming to that conclusion, the board has considered the views of friends and associates of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit. Most of the paintings to be sold have been in secure storage for almost 20 years and form part of the assets of the Foundation.
They do not include any of the masterpieces in the ownership of the National Gallery of Ireland.
Selling assets piecemeal will not resolve the financial challenge of providing Russborough with an annual income. The monies raised cannot be properly invested. A robust endowment is required.
The National Trust in the UK requires a minimum endowment of £10 million. This is the amount that the Foundation is aiming for. Some of the proceeds from the recent sale of porcelain and all the proceeds from the sale of the paintings will go into this endowment fund.
The fund will underpin Russborough’s operating costs for the future to ensure that the house can remain open to the public.
Russborough still requires ongoing and substantial capital funding. The foundation will continue to seek support, including donor support, to implement the vision for Russborough that the Foundation has set for itself.
However, the board fears that future capital grants will be jeopardised if Russborough cannot be put on a sustainable long-term financial footing.
Russborough has received enormous goodwill from visitors, well-wishers and State representatives. We sincerely hope that they and all others who support Russborough will continue to work with us to promote and develop the enduring legacy of Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit.