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Call to investigate 'Private' sale of Beit's Painting       printable version
14 Jun 2015: posted by the editor - Arts, Ireland

An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland has sent a formal letter to the Irish Minister for Arts Heritage and The Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys requesting investigation of the circumstances under which one of a pair of widely admired early 18th.Century French paintings The Cabinet Of Physical Sciences by Jacques De Lajoue, has been sold privately by the Alfred Beit Foundation.

The private sale occurred in advance of the April public announcement of the controversial export and auctioning of six other major works by Christies on 9 July. This raises the most profound issues relating to the operation of the Alfred Beit Foundation.

The bequest by Sir Alfred Beit of 17 masterpieces to the National Gallery of Ireland combined with the remainder of the Beit collections and the magnificent house at Russborough, Co Wicklow, to the Alfred Beit Foundation is one of the greatest art bequests to any country in modern times. It is Ireland’s equivalent of the Wallace Collection or Iveagh bequest at Kenwood in London, or the Frick in New York.

The proposed sale on the 9 July by Christie’s London of six significant paintings including two works by Rubens, a David Teniers 11, two Francesco Guardi works, and a work recognized as the masterpiece of Adriaen Jansz van Ostade is a subject of growing controversy. It destroys the integrity of the historic Beit collection and is exposing Ireland to reputational damage internationally in the protection and management of cultural heritage.

We refer to recent coverage in the New York Times:

There is also a specific issue relating to the function of the Department of Arts Heritage and The Gaeltacht with regard to the governance of the National Gallery of Ireland. This relates to the combined role of Sean Rainbird as Director of the National Gallery of Ireland and as a Trustee of the Alfred Beit Foundation.

In addition to the issue of the paintings placed in the proposed July Christie’s sale, we understand that a major painting has already been sold earlier this year in a private transaction for a reported 500,000 euro. This is one of a pair of early 18th Century works by the French artist Jacques De Lajoue "The Cabinet of Physical Sciences". This represents an artistic tragedy because of its splitting from its companion.

We refer to the report in the Irish Times of 13 June 2015 on the issue . This quoted documents about an Alfred Beit Foundation Board meeting seen by The Irish Times which quoted as follows “Mr Rainbird suggested that the offer for one of the paintings represented a potential windfall that should be looked at very seriously by the Alfred Beit Foundation”. It was further stated that in an email sent to The Irish Times the director stated that the two de Lajouy paintings in the Beit collection were “not a pair”.

We request that all issues relating to the role of Sean Rainbird as the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland and as a Trustee of the Alfred Beit Foundation with regard to the private sale of the De Lajoue be investigated.

In an earlier statement An Taisce said the sale represented a “betrayal of trust”.

“As a result of a remarkable act of generosity, one of the greatest of all private collections of Old Master paintings, formed in England by a German entrepreneur whose fortune was made in South Africa, has come to rest in Ireland. In 1976 Sir Alfred Beit, Bart., set up the Foundation which bears his name to ensure that his collection remains in perpetuity in the magnificent setting of Russborough at the foot of the Wicklow Hills.”

These are the words of Professor Christopher Brown (former Director of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), writing in 1984. Three years later Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit decided to bequeath seventeen of the most important paintings from their collection to the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI), while the kernel of their collection (30-40 pictures) remained at Russborough. It was hoped that the NGI paintings could occasionally be exhibited, with the rest of the historic Beit collection, at Russborough.

Sadly, recent actions by the Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF) have betrayed both the legacy of the Beits’ extraordinary benevolence to their adopted country and the trust invested in the Foundation by the Irish people to care for this collection. On 9 July six magnificent paintings, including two works by Peter Paul Rubens, will be sold by the ABF at Christie’s, London. Two 19th-century British landscapes and a drawing by Francois Boucher have been consigned to other sales to be held in June and July by the same auction house. In addition, an architectural painting by Jacques de Lajoüe (1687-1761), which had hung together with its pair in the Saloon at Russborough until last year, was apparently sold to a private individual by the ABF for a reported sum of €500,000. These recent sales, or proposed sales, are the latest in the liquidation of what the ABF has called “non-core assets”. In 2006 and 2013 the ABF disposed of collections of Italian Renaissance sculpture and Chinese porcelain.

The sale of these paintings will be an immeasurable loss to the national cultural patrimony. While some of these artists are represented in the National Gallery of Ireland, most of the paintings going under the hammer are either better in quality or are of a different type to those in our national collections. The ABF’s decision will also take us further away from Sir Alfred Beit’s aim in establishing his foundation in 1976, and opening the doors of Russborough to the public two years later—to make the house and its contents a centre for the study and appreciation of the fine arts in Ireland.

It is not too late to halt the sale and to consider other models of funding for Russborough House.

  1. More on Private Beit Sale of De Lajoue
  2. The flight of the Beits, Rosita Boland, The Irish Times, June 13th.

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