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Call for delay of sale of Alfred Beit Paintings       printable version
18 Jun 2015: posted by the editor - Arts, Ireland

An Taisce, the UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy and Irish Georgian Society, have called urgently for a halt of the sale of the Alfred Beit paintings at Christie's on 9 July so as to give time for everybody, the Government, the NGOs, the Academics, Tourism Interests, the Alfred Beit Foundation and other willing participants to work together for an imaginative solution, which will finally realise the Beits' vision of Russborough as a centre of the arts and fulfill their frequently expressed desire that the collection remain intact.

In the High Court on 16 June An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland was granted leave to take a Judicial Review of the granting of the export licences of the Beit paintings that are to go on auction today and on July 9th at Christies in London.

The Government, in the form of the Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht or even the Taoiseach himself, was called upon to contact the Chair of Christie's to halt the sale of these paintings that have been left in trust for the Nation so that time is available for all to work together to save the collection along with Russborough House and Demense.

Further a call was made to anyone that can help save these paintings once more for the Nation, to come together and work with the group from An Taisce, UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy and Irish Georgian Society. There are other means of funding the annual costs of Russborough, that do not require the selling of any of the collection.

The 60+ attendees from organisations such as Aosdána; An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland; The Irish Georgian Society; Trinity College, Dublin; The School of Art History and Cultural Policy of University College Dublin, Dublin; The Friends of the National Collections of Ireland; The Irish Association of Art Historians; The Irish Antique Dealers Association and The Irish Museums Association; and members of the general public agreed to the following motions:

Motion 1: We note the irredeemable loss
We deeply regret the proposed sale of paintings from the Beit collection at Christie's in London on 9 July. This sale would be an irredeemable loss to Ireland's cultural patrimony and a betrayal of the legacy of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit. This sale would also discourage any future philanthropist from leaving collections in Trust for the People of Ireland.

Motion2: Postpone the sale
We ask the trustees of the Alfred Beit Foundation to postpone the sale. This will allow time for an imaginative solution to be found which will finally realise the Beits' vision of Russborough as a centre of the arts and fulfill their frequently expressed desire that the collection remain intact.

Motion 3: Work together for the solution
We are all willing to work partnership with the Government and NGOs in the heritage sector and others nationally and internationally with the enthusiasm to realise the Beits' vision

Motion 4: Introduce a 'Code of ethics'
We note that the International Council of Museums code of ethics, which is the world standard for custodians of collections, including those held in historic houses, states that:

"The removal of an object or specimen from a museum collection must only be undertaken with a full understanding of the significance of the item, its character (whether renewable or non-renewable), legal standing, and any loss of public trust that might result from such action,"

and that

"Each museum should have a policy defining authorized methods for permanently removing an object from the collections through donation, transfer, exchange, sale, repatriation, or destruction, and that allows the transfer of unrestricted title to any receiving agency. Complete records must be kept of all deaccessioning decisions, the objects involved, and the disposal of the object. There will be a strong presumption that a deaccessioned item should first be offered to another museum."

Motion 5. A better law on the export of cultural heritage
The sale has highlighted the inadequacy of the current framework which regulates the sale overseas of Ireland's cultural patrimony. An urgent updating of Irish export law on cultural heritage to the best European standards is required. Specifically, implementation of the existing unused provisions of the National Cultural Institutions act 1997 with regard to scheduling items and collections for export control.

The importance of the group of paintings cannot be overstated. It is clearly apparent from the Christie's catalogue that these are some of the most desirable old master paintings to have come to the market in recent years.

While much attention has focused on the two paintings by Rubens, one formerly owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds, all of the works are significant.

To take just one example, this is how the lengthy catalogue entry for the Teniers begins:

First documented in 1735, the Beit Kermesse has long been heralded as one of the jewels in the Teniers oeuvre and one of the most successful treatments of the artist's most popular subject. Its provenance alone is testament to its enormous appeal, passing successively through some of the greatest French Old Master collections of the 18th and early 19th century, from the Marquis de Brunoy, to Antoine Dutarte, Lucien Bonaparte and the Comte de Pourtalès.
Alfred Beit bought the Kermesse in 1894 from John Walter, of Bearwood, on the trusted recommendation of his advisor Wilhem von Bode. A beautifully preserved, multi-figural work painted on copper, it remains today perhaps the most important Kermesse by Teniers still in private hands.

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