An appeal to the Beit Trustees



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.

John Mulcahy

Beit Appeal Update: UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy’s letter to The Irish Times


There are 27 comments

  1. Antonia Lanza dAjeta

    I grew up in Ireland. PLEASE don’t get let these works of art go, culture is so important for everybody and Sir Alfred and Lady Beit knew this well. STOP THE SALE OF THESE PAINTINGS !

  2. Edward McParland

    I’m very happy to sign this on condition that it is correct to say that the Beits explicitly wished the collection to be kept intact as quoted above.

  3. Nora Foley, Matthew Turner, John O Donnell

    We would like the trusties to carry out Beit Foundation wishes. As art students we value and how much work goes in to it. We would not like to see it lost to other Countries as a collection it should stay in tacked.
    Group of art student from art craft & deign in Dungarvan.

  4. Susan Proud

    Some years ago Russborough House was used for wonderful concerts but sadly, in the last number of years, there have been very few such events at the house. It is an ideal location for a music festival along the lines of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival which takes place in Bantry House. I think it would be really sad if these paintings were lost, not only to Russborough House, but to the people of Ireland.

  5. if "in trust" should mean just that? is the Beit family in finanbial difficulties. not with the de Beers owning diamond mines I would've thought.

    Disgraceful. Keep the paintings in Ireland as was the intention of Alfred Beit. What is the reason for this proposed sale?

  6. Elmarie Nagle

    What a travesty it would be to see such a magnificent Art Collection of iconic works, dispersed, even in part, at auction; in particular in total opposition to the ‘final wishes’ of Sir Alfred Beit, a wonderful, highly respected and forward-thinking supporter of fine art, architecture, and the cultural heritage of Ireland.
    I most respectfully request that you, the Trustees, desist from going ahead with the planned auction and be ‘solution-driven’ to find an alternative strategy, that may allow the Beit Collection (or indeed, what is left of it) remain intact- and also find the means to manage the upkeep of Russborough House, as originally envisaged; there is always another way- this merely requires persistent and creative lateral thinking, to allow for a more positive result.
    Please rise to that challenge, respect the final wishes of such a ‘great benefactor’ of Ireland’s cultural heritage-as what has allegedly occurred to date cannot be undone-but what occurs next is what matters and there is a clear onus on you as Trustees, to behave with the utmost integrity and respect and follow through in a responsible fashion with the next steps you take, concerning both the magnificent Beit Art Collection and the care of Russborough House, both entrusted to your care.
    May 28th, 2015.

  7. Patrick Connolly

    It is hard to believe that any committee could be that stupid how do they think anybody thinking of leaving any thing to the Irish Nation or Irish People will react The have some cheek it is just unbelievable we have to make sure they do not get away with this we also need new people to take charge of the trust
    Patrick Connolly

  8. Joseph McDonnell

    Russborough has the greatest collection of old master paintings in the country, second only to the National Gallery. Ireland is not rich in old master collections compared to other European countries and the Beit collection at Russborough must be kept intact at all costs.

  9. Dermot Hallahan

    If Alfred Beit himself asked that the house and art collection be kept intact and opened to the public, what gives the Trustees the right or in what way do they think they have such a right to sell off part of his collection? By what measure are they acting as Trustees of any foundation, much less that of the Beits’?

  10. Clodagh Gale

    Having worked as an Art Tour Guide in Russborough House for Sir Alfred & Lady Beit in the 1980’s, and as an artist, I feel a great attachment to these paintings which are our “National Treasures”. These Great Master’s Artworks hung on the walls of this private House and people from all over the world came to see them.
    To see these Great Master’s works (OUR National Treasures) being sold out of Ireland is tragic as my hope was that they would return to where they always belonged since 1952 in Russborough House.
    Lady Beit is not even ten years deceased and the gift of these paintings which they so generously gave to the Irish people are being sold to fund the upkeep of the House. Is there no other way?
    Last week on “Liveline” it was suggested that these paintings could be bought by a rich Irish entrepreneur who could subsequently get 80% tax relief.
    Please is there anyone out there who can help keep these paintings in Ireland?

  11. Kate Jordan

    The paintings belong to the Irish people. They should not be sold. Please do not sell our paintings.

  12. Valerie Snow

    I will very sad if these wonderful paintings are lost to the Irish people – please don’t sell them.

  13. Eiblin O' Siochain

    They should not sold, its like selling off the family silver. Whats worrying is the secrecy, and where was the money going from the proceeds. Its simple, its ours and we forbid it.

  14. Grainne Pierse

    Sir Alfred and Lady Beit left this wonderful collection of paintings to the Irish nation and their
    wishes should be respected.This collection should stay in Ireland.

  15. Sylvia SHEIL

    When Sir Alfred Beit generously bequeathed his collection of masterpieces to the Irish nation in the 1980’s I wrote to thank him for his magnificent gesture, and received an acknowledgment from him from his home in London. It is truly shameful that the treasures remaining in Russborough should be disposed of and in such a secretive way. Maybe there is an Irish philanthropist who might come to the rescue??

  16. art lover

    This selling off of the nation’s treasures must be stopped-use the Lottery money for Arts rather than Sports

  17. Colum Kenny

    Even if the Beits had not expressly stated a wish to keep the collection together, such a wish was implicit in their gift of masterpieces. This is not a matter of trustees engaged in normal housekeeping and perhaps trading off some marginal works. I wonder would the Supreme Court regard this as a breach of trust given the nature of the works being sold, among other aspects of the affair? It is a national disgrace and in tone and process is redolent of the sale of rare books in 1972 by King’s Inns, about which I have written a volume. What lessons were learnt by the state from that earlier sale? Not many it seems.

  18. J. Philip O'Kane

    Honour the commitment given to the Beits, when they made their magnificent gift to the people of Ireland:
    publish your articles of association, mission statement, performance metrics, annual reports, and audited accounts, as free downloads on your website.
    You are a charity, behave like one – open to scrutiny, but always with an outstretched mendicant hand.

    Let there be no moaning about Macawber Economics; no shadowy dealings with the institutions of state.
    Your objective is to “promote and further the advancement of education in the fine arts of Ireland”.
    Prove it, and tell the world! You have a job of work to do!

  19. Michael Kissane

    The decision to sell these paintings calls into question the competence of those who made it, but in Ireland we don’t like to criticise – better to be polite and watch bad decisions be made for fear of offending anybody.

  20. Alan Kennedy

    I commend the efforts of the Minister, the Irish Arts Review, An Taisce, The Irish Georgian Society and others to stall the sale of these paintings. It would be an immeasurable tragedy for these paints to be sold and lost to the Irish people forever. What’s more, it will be done against the express wishes of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, which is perhaps the most injurious thing about this whole affair. They were extraordinarily generous, unprecedented in the scale and value, during their time in Ireland.

    This is not the first time part of the Beit collection was sold off, and for the same stated reason, in 2006 the sale of Bronzes for £2m was done to contribute to the upkeep of the house. What efforts have been made to utalise the unique and beautiful setting and facilities of Russborough to ensure the integrity of the Beit’s collection?

  21. Stephen Cooling

    Open Letter to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan TD and Brendan Howlin TD Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
    Re:The Sale of The Alfred Beit Foundation paintings.
    Dear Sirs
    It is a cause of great concern and sadness to me that The Trustees of The Alfred Beit Foundation have made the decision to sell part of the Beit Collection especially since it was clearly the intention of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit that the collection should remain intact at Russborough House for the benefit of the Irish people. Regretfully 2 have already sold, I feel strongly that it would be the greatest of tragedies if more these fine works of art where to leave Ireland.
    It is my strongly held belief that the foundation should reconsider this action as once it is done it cannot be undone, once they are gone they are gone. These paintings are truly irreplaceable and the fact that this sale was initiated by the Trustees of The Alfred Beit Foundation is beyond belief given that the purpose of the foundation is preservation and protection of this collection, I feel strongly that this action is contrary to the stated purpose of The Alfred Beit Foundation. They are in fact selling that which they are supposed to protect.
    I also feel that this sale should be halted as it does not create a sustainable income source that would ensure the future of this collection. I appreciate that it is a great challenge for the trustees to maintain a property such as Russborough House and its fine Art collection, but breaking up the collection will only ensure that one day there may be nothing left to preserve. I feel strongly that the government, The Department Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Office of Public work has a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to maintain this collection in Ireland including providing funding to ensure that this collection is retained for the benefit of the Irish People and the state, after all this collection is held in trust for the Nation, the trustees are caretakers not the owners of the collection and it was the wish of Sir Alfred and Lady Beit that the collection remain intact and in Ireland.
    Kind regards

    Send an email to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan TD and Brendan Howlin TD Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, just click the link below.

    Follow the ‘keep the Beit paintings in Ireland’ campaign on face book.

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