The flight of the Beits
The Alfred Beit Foundation’s proposed sale of nine paintings that were supposed to be ‘for the enjoyment of the Irish people’ caused outrage.
Benfactors: Sir Alfred and Lady Beit at Russborough House in 1978 with Adoration of the Shepherds, by Adriaen van Ostade, one of paintings destined for Christie’s. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea
On Saturday, March 20th, 1976, this newspaper reported that Russborough House, the Co Wicklow home of Sir Alfred Beit and Lady Beit, was to open to the public as a centre for fine art. “Sir Alfred’s collection of over 100 paintings by world masters, believed to be one of the most valuable collections of its kind in the world, will become part of a charitable trust to be known as the Alfred Beit Foundation. ”
The report also said that the trust “will consist of seven or eight people prominent in the arts and cultural life of the nation” in addition to the Beits, English philanthropists whose family had made a fortune from diamond mining. According to Fred Sutton & Co, the Beits’ solicitors, the paintings would in effect “be on loan to the State from the trustees and Russborough House itself would be a gift to the State”.