Beit trust says it asked Government for aid twice in 2013
Foundation says it notified of financial situation before plans to sell Russborough art
The trust that runs Russborough House has said it approached the Government twice in 2013 seeking support and highlighting the need to sell some Beit collection paintings if assistance was not provided.
The Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF) said it “formally notified” then minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan of the “perilous financial situation” before plans were made to consign nine pictures, including works by Rubens, to Christie’s auctioneers to raise funds.
“The possibility of the State acquiring some of the ABF paintings was discussed, as well as mechanisms to enable donors to acquire the assets. Other suggestions as to how the State could support Russborough were considered,” the statement said.
“Given its own serious financial demands, the State was not then in a position to assist and it has indicated that this continues to be the case.”
According to a statement from the foundation released on Wednesday, the then minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Brian Hayes was also informed in 2013.
“That year and before any plans were made for sales and in the absence of other recurrent funding materialising, the board twice approached Government seeking support and highlighted the need to sell some of the ABF paintings should that support not be forthcoming.”
The board said it could “fully understand” the “negative reaction” to its decision to sell the paintings, which it took with “great reluctance”.
“Sir Alfred and Lady Beit would have wished for Russborough and its collection of paintings to have remained intact at Russborough, but events overtook that aspiration.”
A number of robberies “mitigated against any valuable art being displayed at Russborough again”, the board said.
Ms Humphreys met board members on Tuesday night. They refused her request to cancel or delay the sale, saying such a move would result in a £1.4 million (€1.9 million) fee for breaking a contract with Christie’s.
An Taisce heritage officer Ian Lumley called on the board to enter into negotiation with Christie’s “to drop their fee demand”.
Speaking at a press conference also attended by other cultural and heritage organisations, Mr Lumley said: “We need to become much louder in the message that needs to be communicated to the Alfred Beit Foundation to withdraw this sale, to abandon the sale.”
Mr Lumley added: “The Minister was only informed as we know after the paintings were consigned out of the country. There was no attempt made to look at private fundraising or to communicate the issue to the public at large.”
The chairman of the Irish Georgian Society, Dr David Fleming, also called on the foundation to negotiate the withdrawal of the paintings. “There is a narrow window of opportunity left to keep these paintings in Ireland and the means to do so lies with the ABF making a courageous decision that will benefit all,” he said.
Two paintings by 19th-century English artist John Atkinson Grimshaw were sold by Christie’s for a combined total of £112,500 (approximately €156,000) on Tuesday, while the others including works by Rubens are to be sold in July.