The decision by the Trustees of the Beit Foundation at Russborough House to despatch the most valuable part of the picture collection for auction in London may be understandable from their point of view. But it was a badly flawed decision and the intended sale should be put on hold immediately.
In 1976, Alfred Beit transferred the entire Russborough estate to the Alfred Beit Foundation as a charitable and educational trust with the object, in his own words, ‘of keeping the house and art collection intact, making it a centre for the arts and open to the public.’ It was an extraordinarily generous and exceptional bequest to the Irish people from one who owed absolutely nothing to this country. But the trustees have failed to live up to Beit’s expectations. They have not made Russborough into a ‘centre for the arts’ and they are failing to ‘keep the collection intact.’ No doubt they have performed to the best of their ability in a difficult situation but Alfred Beit must be turning in his grave.
What is particularly hard to understand is why the trustees failed to explore all other possibilities and strategies before acting so secretly in dispersing the collection against the benefactor’s wishes. After forty years under their control, Russborough is still not established on a firm financial footing and badly needs a strategic plan with all interested parties involved. Last month a conference was held in Dublin Castle on Art in the Irish Country House, during which many positive suggestions emerged including an imaginative proposal to connect Bantry House with the Crawford Gallery in Cork. And thereby hangs the germ of one idea for Russborough.
It was an extraordinarily generous and exceptional bequest to the Irish people from one who owed absolutely nothing to this country. But the trustees have failed to live up to Beit’s expectations.
There is already a symbiotic relationship between Russborough and the National Gallery of Ireland which has been enriched enormously not just once, but twice, from the contents of the Blessington mansion. Surely there is a future for a much closer relationship between these two cultural institutions which indeed was hinted at by Desmond FitzGerald in an article in the Irish Arts Review in Winter 2005 which we reproduce on page 224 of the Irish Arts Review Summer 2015 edition. There is a lot to be learnt too from the experience of Castletown House where the State carries the burden of maintaining the house while the Castletown Foundation retains control of the contents. The trustees have wrapped themselves in a cocoon instead of seeking help from the Irish people and their government.
With this edition we are launching an Appeal to the Beit Trustees to call off, or at least to immediately postpone, the sale of the pictures and we invite our readers to support this Appeal by registering their names online at this link.
Beit Appeal Update: UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy’s letter to The Irish Times