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Sir Hugh Lane – Art Lover

Sir Hugh Lane

Sir Hugh Lane

If ever one man made a difference, then the contribution of Sir Hugh Lane to the cause of promoting art in Ireland must be celebrated. His gesture in setting up the world’s first gallery for modern art in Dublin was far-sighted, and done with the love and understanding of an expert. The city and country are forever in his debt, and after more than a hundred years of business, the gallery is stronger and more exciting than ever.

Lane, who was born on the 9th November 1875 in County Cork, spent most of his early life in Cornwall, England. By the 1890s he was working in the London art market where he was known as a shrewd and knowledgeable investor, especially in the works of the Impressionists. Over time he bought a significant number of paintings and it is these that form the core of the permanent collection that now bears his name.

WB Yeats

WB Yeats

In the early 1900s Lane often spent time with his aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory, at her home in Coole Park, County Galway where he met many of the leading figures in Irish art, including W.B. Yeats, Edward Martyn and AE Russell. In 1901 after he had attended an exhibition by Irish artists in Dublin, he was determined to open a gallery in the city for contemporary work from both Ireland and abroad. He persuaded some rich friends to help provide funds and the artists, Jack B Yeats and Roderic O’Connor, to donate paintings to the gallery that opened on 20th January, 1908 on Harcourt Street. This was meant to have been a temporary venue, but after Dublin  Corporation’s rejection of his plans for a gallery (designed by Sir Edward Lutyens) on both sides of the Liffey, he offered his paintings to The National Gallery in London.

This action would have very serious consequences after Lane died on board the Lusitania when it was sunk on 7th May, 1915, about 11 miles from the Old Head of Kinsale, in his native county. (Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard 1,198 lost their lives.) Before boarding the ill-fated ship he had changed his mind, and will, about the disposition of the ‘39’ paintings (The Lane Bequest), but unfortunately the document, although signed by Lane, was not witnessed. This led to long and painful discussions with the National Gallery in London who had possession of the paintings, that were finally resolved in 1993. The Lane Bequest was split so that 31 of the paintings came to Dublin permanently while the remaining 8 paintings, although staying in London, were to be shown in Dublin every 6 years. All 39 paintings were reunited for the first time in Dublin in 2008.

Casino at Marino

Casino at Marino

So, after a difficult start, the gallery finally found a home in Charlemont House, Parnell Square, Dublin. This wonderful building was designed by renowned English architect Sir William Chambers in 1763 for James Caulfield, 1st Earl of Charlemont. Caulfield had met Chambers in Italy while the younger man was on his Grand Tour, and asked Chambers to design a ‘town house’ for him. (Chambers also designed the Casino at Marino for Caulfield.) The building has changed little over the years and it is recognised as one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Dublin. Lane, sadly, never got to see the gallery, but I am sure he would agree that Caulfield’s magnificent house is a most suitable place for his collection to call home.

Charlemont House

Charlemont House

 

 

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The Hugh Lane Gallery

The Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, usually referred to as The Hugh Lane, is unique in that it is the first known public gallery for modern art anywhere in the world. This is due to the work of Hugh Lane who was a successful London art dealer and collector. He had a particular passion for works of the Impressionists, and there are a number of fine paintings by such artists as Renoir, Pissarro and Manet on show.

Sir Hugh Lane by John Singer Sargent

Sir Hugh Lane by John Singer Sargent

Lane was born in Cork in 1875 and spent most of his early life in Cornwall. After school he began an apprenticeship as a painting restorer, but soon began dealing in paintings. Although he lived in London he often returned to Ireland and stayed with his aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory (a founder of the Abbey Theatre), and was familiar with Irish art which he praised and promoted. As such, he decided that Ireland needed a gallery to show these works and he opened the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in January 1908. It was set-up in temporary premises on Harcourt Street, and Lane hoped that Dublin Corporation would take over the running of the gallery. This, however, did not happen, as the Corporation were uncertain about the financial viability of such an enterprise. Sadly, Lane was among almost 1,200 people who died when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed on 7th May 1915 off his native Cork, and never lived to see ‘his’ gallery.

Following his untimely death many years were spent arguing about the 39 paintings in the ‘Lane Bequest’. It was not until 1959, more than forty years after Lane’s death, that a deal was struck between the Irish and British governments for the custodianship of the paintings. Half of the paintings would be shown in Dublin every five years, but this arrangement was altered in 1993 whereby 31 of the paintings would stay in Dublin. Charlemont House (the former townhouse of James Caulfield, owner of the Casino at Marino) was opened as the permanent location for the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, and it is now one of the city’s favourite galleries.

Charlemont House

Charlemont House

 

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