The planned sale of old master paintings from Russborough House at auction in London has been postponed for another six months.
The board of the Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF), which runs the former Co Wicklow home of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, has again agreed to defer the sale, this time until June 2016.
The auction, which was scheduled for July this year, was initially postponed until December following a public outcry. The foundation said the sale of the paintings was necessary to create a €15 million endowment fund to secure the future of Russborough House.
Following meetings with Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys, the foundation instead agreed to try to find donors in Ireland who would buy the paintings and donate them to the State in return for tax relief.
Negotiations between the foundation and unnamed philanthropists are understood to be "ongoing" but "require more time to bring to a conclusion". Businessman Lochlann Quinn, who is part-owner of Dublin's Merrion Hotel and a well-known art collector, is believed to be willing to acquire a painting entitled A Village Kermesse Near Antwerp by David Teniers the Younger, a 17th-century Flemish artist, with the intention that it be donated to the National Gallery of Ireland.
For the deal to proceed, a valuation of the painting would have to be agreed by the Revenue Commissioners and the donor would get 80 per cent tax relief on the price paid. The painting is estimated to be worth about €2 million.
The painting, which depicts a village fair in 17th-century Flanders and dates from the 1640s, was described by experts at Christie’s as a “masterpiece” made when the artist “was at the peak of his fame”.
It is one of six old masters the foundation was planning to sell at Christie’s. It is not known which of the other paintings, which include two by Rubens, are under negotiation, but the foundation said even if the current negotiations were concluded satisfactorily, it would face a significant shortfall in its finances and Russborough House, a major visitor attraction in Co Wicklow, might still have to close.
Crucially, the foundation has said the current negotiations involve only “some” of the paintings. It remains the foundation’s intention to proceed with the sale at Christie’s for any of the six paintings that fail to sell to the so-called “white knight” donors.
It has acknowledged that the 80 per cent relief is “generous but, unfortunately, not generous enough in the current circumstances when support for the arts is so depleted”.