Some Russborough paintings may be sold

Funds raised may only cover half of €15m needed to secure stately house’s future

Some paintings from Russborough House in Co Wicklow may yet have to be auctioned because alternative proposals may not raise enough money to safeguard the future of the house, its trustees believe.

Seven pictures were due to be auctioned at Christie’s in London earlier this month. But the proposed sale caused major controversy and they were eventually withdrawn so proposals from “white knight” private donors could be explored by the Alfred Beit Foundation which runs Russborough.

Although the details of the proposals were not disclosed, there was widespread expectation the pictures would be bought and remain accessible to the public in Ireland.

However, the foundation believes the funds raised will only cover about half of the €15 million needed to secure Russborough’s future.


A private donor, whose identity has not been revealed, has given a firm commitment to buy one Rubens painting and discussions are continuing about three other pictures.

Against this background, the foundation believes it may have to reconsider auctioning some paintings and is due to meet Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys next week to discuss the development.

The paintings under discussion are Head of a Bearded Man by Rubens and Venus Supplicating Jupiter by the same artist, along with a depiction of 17th-century Flemish village festivities by David Teniers the Younger and a work by Adrien van Ostade.

Under a scheme to encourage the donation of heritage items to Irish cultural institutions, 80 per cent of the market value of the items is offset against the tax liability of the owner, with a ceiling of €6 million in respect of any one year.

The foundation has been trying to establish an endowment fund of up to €15 million in order to underpin Russborough’s long-term financial stability.

It has written to all Wicklow TDs and a number of arts and heritage organisations stating Russborough is in a serious financial situation and asking how they might assist in preventing its closure. It has been in touch with An Taisce, the Irish Georgian Society, the RDS, Trinity College, the Hunt Museum and the Irish Museums Association.

The foundation initially refused a request by Ms Humphreys to cancel or delay the auction of the paintings at Christie’s, saying it would face a €1.9 million charge for breaking a contract.

Following the postponement of the Christie’s sale, the foundation warned the auction of the artworks would be resumed if the proposal under consideration, or others that might emerge, did not reach a satisfactory conclusion by October and Russborough was otherwise unable to raise the required funds.

It costs €1 million a year to keep the house in repair and open to the public. The foundation raises about €350,000 a year in capital grants and a further €300,000 in income, leaving a shortfall.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times