Rare Asian artefacts to go on show in Dublin


A rare collection of Asian artefacts donated to Ireland rather than the Louvre museum in Paris goes on display tomorrow for the first time in more than 30 years.

Some 260 priceless pieces were given to the National Museum by Irish-American multi-millionaire and art lover Albert Bender in honour of his mother Augusta in 1931.

It includes irreplaceable objects from the Ming Dynasty, Tibetan Buddhist paintings and rare prints and regarded by experts as one of the most important Asian collections in Europe.

Curator of applied arts Audrey Whitty said she hoped the exhibition would encourage the country’s diverse mix of nationalities to pay a visit.

“It’s a very apt time to put it on display because of the multi-culturalism in Ireland today,” she said

“We are hoping Chinese people, Japanese people and indigenous peoples of China will be drawn to it.”

Albert Bender made his fortune in insurance after emigrating to America and he began collecting Asian art which was imported from China and Japan into his adopted home of San Francisco.

Dublin-born Bender rejected offers for the priceless oriental works from the famed Louvre in favour of the National Museum in honour of his mother Augusta.

Ms Whitty revealed another unusual link between Bender and Dublin.

Son of the city’s chief rabbi, he struck up an unlikely friendship in the 1930s with National Museum curator Adolf Mahr, a one-time leader of the Dublin Nazi party.

Ms Whitty described Bender as a patriot.

“It’s very appropriate it’s done here in the National Museum because he was such a patriotic man,” she said.

“He wouldn’t have donated them if he hadn’t been from this country. Bender died at 74 years of age and what he did in that short time was quite astounding in terms of leaving a legacy.”

The exhibition includes rare thangkas, or paintings on cotton, done in the 18th century by Tibetan Buddhist monks, along with decorated snuff boxes and prints from famed artists.

“The fact the French were trying to obtain the thangkas proved that they realise how rare the collection was,” Ms Whitty said.

Other items include a duck figure from 206BC designed for coffins of the rich, and decorative funeral jars to store grain as offerings to the gods.

The collection was originally opened by Eamonn De Valera in 1934 - an indication of just how significant the donation was.

A separate donation of 800 objects to San Francisco allowed that city to found its own museum.

The collection goes on display at the museum at Collins Barracks tomorrow.