Sale of old masters saves Russborough House

Sell-off of paintings has raises €7m for stately home

The threatened closure of Russborough House, the stately home in Co Wicklow, has been averted following the sale of old master paintings from its collection.

The Alfred Beit Foundation – a non-profit organisation which looks after the house that was left in trust to the people of Ireland by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, had warned last year that it needed "to create an endowment fund of up to €15 million to ensure the long-term viability of Russborough".

The Irish Times has learned the foundation has now amassed "a war chest" in the region of €7 million after selling old master paintings from the Beit Collection in a mix of auction and private sales. While details of the foundation's finances for the past year have not yet been published, it is understood a further sale of a painting for another €1 million is close to completion.

Although the money raised by the sales falls well short of the target figure for the endowment fund, the future of the house looks secure for the foreseeable future.


Visitor numbers

The foundation has already commenced an “urgent mechanical and electrical refurbishment” programme that will last three years and cost €1 million. It has commissioned a “long-term master plan for the house”, and hired both a new curator and a development manager to boost visitor numbers and improve fundraising.

A spokesman for Russborough House said the 200-acre estate near Blessington had "about 105,000 visitors" in 2016 – a new record – and that revenue from ticket sales and merchandise had "doubled in four years". Although no breakdown was provided, he said many of the visitors were from overseas "particularly from the USA, UK, France and Germany". However, only about one-fifth of the visitors paid to take a guided tour of the house.

In addition to the money raised by selling the paintings, it is understood the foundation will also seek more State funding because “the foundation’s target of €15 million for [the] endowment fund to ensure Russborough’s survival still remains to be achieved”.

The Alfred Beit Foundation, a company with official charitable status, is chaired by Judith Woodworth and the board includes nominees of national institutions including UCD, TCD, the National Gallery of Ireland, the RDS, the Irish Georgian Society and An Taisce.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques