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National Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

July 26th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

The National Gallery of Ireland houses the Irish national collection of Irish and European art. It is located in the centre of Dublin city with one entrance on Merrion Square, beside Leinster House, and another on Clare Street. It was founded in 1854 and opened its doors ten years later. The Gallery has an extensive, representative collection of Irish painting and is also notable for its Italian Baroque and Dutch masters painting. The current director of the gallery is Raymond Keaveney. Entry to the gallery is free.

In 1853 an exhibition, the Irish Industrial Exhibition, was held on the lawns of Leinster House in Dublin. Among the most popular exhibits was a substantial display of works of art organized and underwritten by the railway magnate William Dargan. The enthusiasm of the visiting crowds demonstrated a public for art and it was decided to establish a permanent public art collection as a lasting monument of gratitude to Dargan.

The facade of the National Gallery mimics the Natural History building of the National Museum of Ireland which was already planned for the facing flank of Leinster House. The building itself was designed by Francis Fowke, based on early plans by Charles Lanyon and was completed in 1864.

The Gallery was unlucky not to have been founded around an existing collection, but through diligent and skillful purchase, by the time it opened it had 125 paintings, in 1866 an annual purchase grant was established and by 1891 space was already limited. In 1897 the Dowager Countess of Milltown indicated her intention of donating the contents of Russborough House to the Gallery. This gift included about 200 hundred paintings and prompted construction from 1899 to 1903 of what is now called the Milltown Wing. This was designed by Thomas Newenham Deane.

At around this time Henry Vaughan left 31 watercolours by J.M.W. Turner with the requirement that they could only be exhibited in January, this to protect them from the ill-effects of sunlight. Though modern lighting technology has made this stipulation unnecessary, the Gallery continues to restrict viewing of the Vaughan bequest to January and the exhibition is treated as something of an occasion.

Another substantial bequest came with the untimely death in the sinking of the Lusitania of Hugh Lane (1875-1915), since 1914 director of the Gallery; not only did he leave a large collection of pictures, he also left part of his residual estate and the Lane Fund has continued to contribute to the purchase of art works to this day. In addition to his involvement in the Gallery, Hugh Lane has also hoped to found a gallery of modern art, something only realised after his death in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery. George Bernard Shaw also made a substantial bequest, he left the Gallery a third of royalties of his estate in gratitude for the time he spent there as a youth.

The Gallery was again extended in 1962 with a new wing designed by Frank du Barry of the Office of Public Works. This opened in 1968 and is now named the Beit Wing. In 1978 the Gallery received from the government the paintings given to the nation by Chester Beatty and in 1987 the Sweeney bequest brought 14 works of art including paintings by Picasso and Jack B. Yeats. The same year the Gallery was once again given some of the contents of Russborough house; the Beit donation of 17 masterpieces, including painting by Velázquez, Murillo, Steen, Vermeer and Raeburn.

In the 1990s a lost Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, known through replicas, was discovered hanging in a Jesuit house of studies in Leeson street in Dublin by Sergio Benedetti, senior conservator of the gallery. The Jesuits have generously allowed this painting to be exhibited in the Gallery and the discovery was the cause of national excitement. In 1997 Anne Yeats donated sketchbooks by her uncle Jack Yeats and the Gallery now includes a Yeats Museum. Denis Mahon, a well known art critic, promised the Gallery part of his rich collection and eight painting from his promised bequest are on permanent display, including the magnificent Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Guercino.

A new wing, the Millennium Wing, was opened in 2002. Unlike the previous two extensions, this new wing has street frontage and the architects Benson and Forsyth gave it an imposing facade and grand atrium. The design originally involved demolishing an adjoining Georgian terrace house and its ballroom mews; however, the planning authority, An Bord Pleanála, required that they be retained and in fact they give depth and texture to the design. The Millennium Wing is not without its critics: it is unforgiving of poor maintenance and its circulation space lacks clarity, but it is generally considered that these flaws are trivial details set against the drama of the building.

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