Court challenge over export licences for Beit paintings adjourned

Withdrawal of works from auction meant the matter no longer so urgent - Judge

‘Portrait of a bearded man’ by Rubens - part of the Beit collection which had been due for auction this month

A legal challenge by An Taisce alleging export licences were not lawfully issued by the National Gallery of Ireland for a number of valuable paintings has been adjourned to later this month.

The proceedings were initiated last month when some the paintings were due to be put up for sale at auction in London but they have since been withdrawn from auction.

The President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said the withdrawal of the works from auction meant the matter was no longer so urgent and he granted an application by the State to adjourn it to July 28th to allow for affidavits to be filed.

Previously the court was told the works are part of the collection of Sir Alfred Beit and include two oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, one entitled "Head of a Bearded Man".


In an affidavit, John Loughman, senior lecturer in UCD’s School of Art, History and Cultural Policy, said the works are “part of Ireland’s rich cultural patrimony” and their loss to Ireland’s cultural heritage would be “enormous”.

In the action, An Taisce alleges that a licence of March 16th 2015 granted by the National Gallery of Ireland to the Irish branch of London-based fine art auction house Christie's, acting as agent of the Afred Beit Foundation, Russborough House, Co Wicklow, for export of the paintings to the UK was made in excess of the powers of the Gallery.

The appropriate authority for the granting of such licences is the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and she has no power to delegate that authority, it is claimed.

Despite “numerous” requests for clarification about the alleged act of delegation, An Taisce says it has been unable to identify how that was achieved. It did not appear the delegation was achieved by primary or secondary legsislation, it is claimed. It was also alleged the relevant paintings were unlawfully exported out of Ireland.

An Taisce said it had clarified “Portrait of a Monk”, by Rubens, had been returned to Ireland.

Two paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw have been sold while six others, described as representing “very important examples” of Flemish, Dutch and Venetian art, have been withdrawn from auction.

An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, claimed ten paintings were unlawfully exported out of Ireland last March in breach of the provisions of the Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export) Act 1945.

The judicial review proceedings are against the Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Alfred Beit Foundation, and Christie, Manson and Woods Ltd, trading as Christie’s, of St James’, London, were also made notice parties to the proceedings.

An Taisce claims an EC Council Regulation of 2009 requires that paintings in the territory of a member state, such as the ten paintings at issue, must be granted an export licence by that State. Where paitings are legally exported from one member state to another, the latter state is entitled to issue an export licence, it claims.

While three of the paintings at issue were previously exported to Hong Kong and New York, they were not granted an export licence from the Minister and were not legally exported to another member state, it is alleged.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times