A Dublin city councillor has brought a motion calling for the permanent return of the Sir Hugh Lane collection of Impressionist artworks to Ireland.
Cork-born art collector Sir Hugh Lane originally bequeathed the collection to the National Gallery but in a last minute amendment to his will left it to the National Gallery in Dublin instead. Among the 39 works in the collection are Renoir’s ‘The Umbrellas’, Manet’s ‘Eva Gonzales’ and Degas’ ‘Beach Scene’.
Upon Lane’s death aboard the ship Lusitania, sunk by a German submarine in 1915, the collection was transferred to London’s National Gallery. When the codicil was discovered, London held onto the paintings. The amendment had been signed but not witnessed meaning it was not considered to be legally binding. The campaign for the paintings’ return subsequently became a nationalist cause in Ireland.
Rankled by London’s refusal to acknowledge Dublin as the collection’s rightful home, two young Irishmen made off with one of the paintings in a daring 1956 art heist. In a bid to highlight Ireland’s claim, art student Paul Hogan and trainee vet Bill Fogarty calmly unhooked Berthe Morisot’s £7 million ‘Jour d’Eté’ from the wall of the Tate Gallery before fleeing with it in a taxi.
O’Callaghan’s call is the latest in a series of repeated attempts to have the collection returned to Ireland and coincides with the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising this year. It has also been made in anticipation of the expiry of a 40 year agreement according to which 30 of the disputed paintings are on loan to Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery.
Although various agreements have been struck between London and Dublin to share Lane’s collection councillor O’Callaghan is seeking to have all the paintings permanently returned to “their proper home” in Ireland.
While Dublin City Council is set to debate the motion, London’s National Gallery has not commented on what will happen to the collection when the 40 year agreement with the Hugh Lane Gallery expires in 2019.