Beit Foundation settles death duty dispute with a painting

The Cornfield by Jacob van Ruisdael will now go to the Ulster Museum in Belfast

The Alfred Beit Foundation has reached an agreement with the British Revenue Commissioners, the Arts Council of England and the UK culture secretary Karen Bradley on death duties related to the estate of Sir Otto Beit, father of Sir Alfred Beit (1903-1994).

When Sir Otto Beit died in 1930 he possessed a major art collection, including works originally acquired by his brother, Alfred, who died in 2006. Named after his uncle, the younger Alfred inherited this combined collection. Under the terms of the agreement, The Cornfield, a painting by the 17th-century Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael, currently in the possession of the Beit Foundation, will be gifted to the National Museums Northern Ireland and exhibited in the Ulster Museum in Belfast in lieu of £1million in estate duty.

The Beit Foundation chair Judith Woodworth expressed satisfaction with the arrangement, which was brokered by the Acceptance in Lieu Panel. She pointed out that the Ruisdael will remain on the island of Ireland and it will help to publicise the quality of the Beit Collection. The National Gallery of Ireland possesses a particularly fine Ruisdael, The Castle of Bentheim, which also comes from the Beit Collection.

The foundation was established in 1976 by the Beits (Sir Alfred and his wife Lady Clementine Beit, who died in 2005) to preserve Russborough House, Blessington, Co Wicklow, and their art collection for the Irish people. In 1987, 17 of the most significant paintings (including The Castle of Bentheim) went to the National Gallery of Ireland, amid concerns for security at Russborough. It had been the target of several high-profile art thefts, including one involving Rose Dugdale in 1974 and Martin Cahill in 1986.


A number of bronzes were sold by the foundation in 2006 but it faced criticism in 2015 when plans to auction several paintings were revealed. The aim was to fund an endowment to oversee the survival of Russborough – the house is currently closed for urgent electrical and other works – and its collection. One of the outstanding issues facing the foundation was the question of outstanding death duties, and that has now been resolved.