On February 26th, 2021, a partnership agreement was signed between The National Gallery, London, and the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, regarding the Sir Hugh Lane Bequest of thirty-nine paintings.
This agreement emphasises the galleries’ collegiality and allows the public in both Ireland and the UK to continue enjoying these works.
In moving on from previous agreements made during the past 50 years, the two galleries are now committed to working in partnership regarding the care and display of these paintings in a spirit of collegiality.
When Hugh Lane (born County Cork, 1875) perished on the Lusitania on 7 May 1915, it emerged that he had bequeathed his collection of 39 modern paintings – including works by Renoir, Manet, Mancini, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Vuillard and Degas – to the National Gallery, London.
Soon after his death, his aunt Augusta Lady Gregory, found the codicil to his will in his desk at the National Gallery of Ireland where he was Director, leaving the pictures to Ireland instead. They were to form the core of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art which Sir Hugh had established in Dublin in 1908, known today as Hugh Lane Gallery.
The codicil was signed but unfortunately not witnessed and therefore legally invalid. The Trustees of the National Gallery became the owner of the works, despite much political protestation from the Irish Government arguing the Trustees failed to seek a way to honour Sir Hugh’s last wishes.
In the late 1950s, Sir Denis Mahon (1910–2011) – a National Gallery Trustee of Irish descent – undertook to find a compromise where the two institutions would share access to the paintings. The first agreement was reached in 1959 and implemented in the early 1960’s whereby the paintings were divided in two groups and alternated between the two institutions until 1979.
In 1979 a new agreement was entered into for 14 years. This time 30 of the 39 paintings remained in Dublin, 8 remained in London,(including all of the Impressionist works, apart from one). Les Parapluies by Renoir alternated for a 7 year period in each Gallery.
In 1993, a further agreement was reached which took into account the desire of the Irish public for increased access to the Impressionist paintings in the bequest. The eight great French masterpieces rotated between London and Dublin, four at a time on a six-year cycle.
As part of this new 10-year partnership, the sharing and rotating of paintings will continue – however there will now be 10 paintings rotating in two groups of five, for five years in each location. Two works will remain in London. In the spirit of partnership, the works will now all be labelled ‘Sir Hugh Lane Bequest, 1917, The National Gallery, London. In partnership with the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.’
There will also be a wide range of new partnership initiatives involving the care, display, preservation and promotion of the paintings.
Comments on the New Agreement
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu: “This Agreement represents a unique cultural collaboration between our two countries and our two cities, Dublin and London. I am very proud and delighted to have these renowned paintings in the city’s Hugh Lane Gallery, founded by Sir Hugh Lane in 1908. It is the earliest gallery of modern art in Europe and is one of Dublin’s most significant cultural institutions. The Sir Hugh Lane Bequest paintings are on display to be enjoyed by Dubliners and all visitors to the city.”
Dr Barbara Dawson, Director, Hugh Lane Gallery said, “Sir Hugh Lane’s establishment of a gallery of modern art for Ireland in 1908 was a remarkable step for Irish cultural independence. This new partnership agreement between the Hugh Lane Gallery and the National Gallery London underpins the collegial relationship that has developed between the two institutions. Importantly, it acknowledges the history and the role of the Hugh Lane Gallery in the provenance of these paintings and means that people in both countries can continue to enjoy Sir Hugh ‘s celebrated bequest.”
Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director, National Gallery said, “A distinguished collector and generous philanthropist, Hugh Lane wanted people in Dublin and London to enjoy and appreciate ‘modern continental painting’. This new agreement strengthens the partnership between the National Gallery and the Hugh Lane enabling people in both countries to enjoy the paintings by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Vuillard and Morisot that he donated.”
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said: “This partnership is a brilliant example of cooperation in the cultural sector and marks a new phase in the ongoing relationship between the National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin. I’m delighted to see the National Gallery’s work with overseas partners go from strength to strength. The agreement means the future of this important group of paintings has been secured for audiences in Ireland and the UK to enjoy.”
Barbara Dawson, Director of Hugh Lane Gallery, Logan Sisley, Head of Collections Hugh Lane Gallery and Lord Mayor of Dublin Cllr Hazel Chu discussing the new agreement.