An "extremely rare" catalogue of the original Alfred Beit art collection – as it was constituted in 1904 – has come to light at Healy Rare Books in Galway. Antiquarian book dealer Norman Healy has acquired a copy of the 66-page catalogue entitled The Art Collection of Mr Alfred Beit at his residence. 26, Park Lane, London, which is for sale priced at €1,500. Alfred Beit was the uncle of Sir Alfred Beit of Russborough House in Co Wicklow.
The catalogue was compiled by a German art historian Dr Wilhelm Bode and published in Berlin in 1904. The copy for sale is No 43 of a limited proof edition of just 50 copies and is printed on Japanese handmade paper. It is inscribed: "Given to N.A.Nicholson by Lilian, Lady Beit 1946."
In 1904 the art collection of Alfred Beit, who had made a fortune in gold and diamond mining, was regarded as one of the best private art collections in London.
When he died in 1906 the collection passed to his brother Otto Beit who was also a wealthy art collector. When Otto Beit died in 1930 the entire collection passed to his son Sir Alfred Beit, who moved to Ireland in the 1950s.
Sir Alfred and Lady Beit later donated some of the most valuable paintings in their collection to the Irish State. Mr Healy said “most of these paintings are listed in the catalogue and were among the contents of 26 Park Lane, London, where the nucleus of the Russborough collection was originally accumulated by Alfred Beit”.
The catalogue is "profusely illustrated" and "each plate is tissue guarded". Among the paintings illustrated is Woman Reading a Letter, by the Dutch artist Gabriel Metsu, which now hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland.
The catalogue is likely to be of interest to art historians, researchers and collectors interested in the Beit collection which continues to be the subject of controversy and speculation. The Alfred Beit Foundation – the charitable trust that looks after Russborough House – is engaged in ongoing fundraising and is selling some of the paintings that were not included in the 1987 donation to the gallery. MICHAEL PARSONS