Beit paintings and Russborough House
Sir, – We would like to join the Irish Georgian Society, the RDS, An Taisce, and the Irish Museums Association in expressing our grave concern over the decision of the Alfred Beit Foundation to sell important paintings from Russborough House.
Although the house and its contents are held in trust by the foundation for the Irish nation, the public was not informed of this action until export licences were granted and the paintings removed from this jurisdiction for a promotional tour, which will ultimately end with their sale at Christie’s, London, in July. Thus there was no opportunity for a proper debate about the practice of selling works of art from the national cultural patrimony to pay for the maintenance and activities of a country house. Indeed the Alfred Beit Foundation has been systematically deaccessioning for some time and collections of Chinese porcelain and Italian Renaissance sculpture have already been lost to Russborough,
The Alfred Beit Foundation claims in its belated press release announcing the sale that there are “characteristic examples in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI) by all the old masters involved”. This statement is at best misleading. Yes, the NGI owns a number of large religious works by Rubens, but it does not possess any portrait or mythological studies of the type being sold by the foundation. Also being offered for sale is a distinguished country festival scene by David Teniers the Elder; the NGI does not have a work of similar quality by the artist. This also applies to the very rare Adoration of the Shepherds by Adriaen van Ostade. All of these paintings would enhance and extend the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.
We call on the Beit Foundation, whose stated aim is “to promote education in the fine arts”, to withdraw these works from auction, and to investigate adequately alternative means of funding Russborough. – Yours, etc,
Dr PHILIP COTTRELL,
Dr NICOLA FIGGIS,
Dr ROISIN KENNEDY,
Dr JOHN LOUGHMAN,
Dr LYNDA MULVIN,
PROF PAULA MURPHY,
School of Art History
and Cultural Policy,
University College Dublin,