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The Beit paintings should not have been allowed to leave Ireland

An Taisce’s case against The National Gallery of Ireland and the State has been settled.

Image: Gareth Chaney/RollingNews.ie

THE STATE HAS conceded that it was not lawful for the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI) to grant export licencees for paintings from the Beit Collection to leave Ireland for the UK.

Nine paintings, which were being kept at Russborough House and include significant works by Rubens and Francesco Guardi, were to be auctioned at Christie’s in London but An Taisce has been attempting to prevent their sale.

Two of the artworks were sold privately but the auction of seven had been postponed. An Taisce says it will now seek to have these paintings returned to Ireland.

In its High Court action, An Taisce had argued that export licences were granted for the paintings by the NGI , rather than the Minister of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The High Court case has now been settled with Minister Heather Humphreys consenting that the department was wrong to delegate the granting of the export licences to the NGI.

Minister Humphreys says that the delegation of the power to grant licences to the NGI was first carried out thirty years ago in a manner that was not lawful.

“I have taken action to address the legal issues identified in relation to the granting of export licences,” Humphreys said today. “These issues arose because of the manner in which the powers were delegated to the National Gallery some thirty years ago.”

“My department will also continue to consider other wider issues relating to export licences, as part of a review instigated last year,” she added.


An Taisce says today’s court declaration means that the paintings can now not be exported from the UK to outside the EU. They are now calling on Minister Humphreys to seek their return to Ireland.

“It is clear now that the minister should have taken responsibility for the unlawful export of paintings of such cultural significance,” said An Taisce’s Charles Stanley-Smith.

So we are calling for Minister Humphreys to take action to secure their return, and not waited till the 11th hour and a court action to do so. The government have been happy until now to stand on the sidelines and claim it is not their responsibility but as we have seen from the High Court decision today that this simply is not the case, they are the competent authority

In 1976, Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit created the Alfred Beit Foundation to preserve Russborough and its art collection “for the future enjoyment of the Irish people”, according to the house’s website.

The Alfred Beit Foundation owns and operates Russborough House and Demesne in County Wicklow. In 1978, it opened Russborough to the public for guided tours. The cost of maintaining Russborough House has led to difficulties for the foundation and ultimately to the proposed art sale.

Read: These paintings were left to you, so how is a gift to the people of Ireland being sold? >

Read: National Gallery says it has no money to buy the Russborough paintings >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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