Hugh Lane (1875-1915)

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Hugh Lane is best-known for establishing Dublin's Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in 1908 (the first known public gallery of modern art in the world) and for his remarkable contribution to the visual arts in Ireland. Born in County Cork on 9 November 1875, Lane was brought up in Cornwall in England. He began his career as an apprentice painting restorer and later became a very successful London art dealer. Through regular visits to Coole, Co. Galway, the home of his famous aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory, Lane remained in contact with Ireland. He counted among his family and friends those who collectively formed the core of the Irish cultural renaissance in the early decades of the 20th century.

On a visit to Dublin in 1901, Lane viewed an exhibition of paintings by Nathaniel Hone and John Butler Yeats and soon after began a campaign to establish a gallery of modern art in Dublin. He became passionate that the best of national and international art should be on public view in Dublin. To further his campaign, in 1904, Lane organised the first ever exhibition of contemporary Irish art abroad, at the Guildhall in London. The exhibition was a great success. In the preface to the catalogue, Lane stated "There is something of common race instinct in the work of all original Irish writers of to-day and, it can hardly be absent in their sister art." On his return to Dublin, Lane persuaded leading artists of the day to donate a representative work to form the nucleus of the collection, as well as personally financing many acquisitions including a number of major Impressionist masterpieces. He was to become one of the foremost collectors of Impressionist paintings in these islands, and amongst those outstanding works purchased by him for the new gallery were La Musique aux Tuileries and Eva Gonzales by Manet, Sur la Plage by Degas, Les Parapluies by Renoir and La Cheminée by Vuillard.

The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art opened in January 1908 in temporary premises in Harcourt Street, Dublin. However, Lane did not live to see his Gallery permanently located as he died tragically in 1915 on board the Lusitania, off the west coast of Cork, the county of his birth.

The Lane Bequest

Following Lane's death in 1915, a long dispute ensued between Dublin and London over possession of his valuable collection of Continental pictures. Constant difficulties and delays in locating a permanent home for his collection in Dublin resulted in Lane loaning his continental paintings to The National Gallery in London in 1913 and although he refused to confirm it, made a will leaving them to London. The following year he was appointed Director of The National Gallery of Ireland. In 1915, just before leaving for the United States of America, Lane added a codicil to his will stating that he had changed his mind and he now left his famous collection of 39 continental works to Dublin. The codicil was signed but not witnessed. Lane's wishes were not honoured as a British commission set up 1929 in deemed they should not be returned to Dublin. However subsequently, beginning in 1959, agreements have been reached whereby the paintings are shared between Dublin and London.