National Gallery of Ireland celebrates 150 years

Year of special anniversary events at historic Dublin art institution

The National Gallery of Ireland celebrates its 150th anniversary with an expanded programme of exhibitions and events documenting its history from 1864 to today.

The celebrations include commemorative projects with contemporary artists and writers, and a series of monthly anniversary talks focusing on some of the key figures in the history of the gallery since it was opened by the Earl of Carlisle on 30 January 1864.

An exhibition entitled From the Archives: The Story of the National Gallery of Ireland runs until 14 December and features over 100 photographs and other important archival items, paying particular attention to the patrons and benefactors who shaped the national art collection.

The exhibition Governors, Guardians, Artists (15 Feb-11 May) features the work of Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) artists who served as the gallery’s custodians, such as John Lavery, Nathaniel Hone, Sarah Purser, Jack B. Yeats, Evie Hone and Seán Keating.

In May the gallery celebrates two important collections donated from Russborough House in Co. Wicklow: The Milltown Gift (1902) and the Beit Gift (1987), with the exhibition Russborough Revisited (17 May-24 Aug).

The tenth Annual Drawing Day will be launched on 17 May by James Hanley RHA, and in the autumn the gallery presents an exhibition focusing on collaboration between Irish writers and their national gallery (7 Oct-12 April 2015). The 50th Anniversary of the Christmas Family Art Holiday takes place from 29-31 December, and there are a number of children's workshops and family programmes during the year.

The gallery has also compiled an online and onsite project comprising memories of visitors to the gallery over the years.

The gallery's history dates back to 1853 when a large exhibition of paintings was displayed at Leinster House in Dublin, organised and sponsored by railway magnate William Dargan. Thanks to the positive response to the exhibiton it was decided to establish a permanent public art collection and the National Gallery building was inaugurated in 1864.

The gallery was not founded around an existing collection however by the time it opened it had 125 paintings. The collection was boosted significantly by the Russborough donation in 1902, a gift so large that it prompted construction of the gallery's Milltown Wing in 1903. Around the same time the gallery was bequeathed 31 watercolours by J.M.W. Turner, which have been displayed to the public every January since then.

Other substantial bequests came from the gallery's director Hugh Lane who died in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915; while George Bernard Shaw left the gallery a third of the royalties from his estate in gratitude for the time he spent there in his youth.

The gallery was extended in the mid-1960s with a new wing known as the Beit Wing. In 1978 the Gallery received an important collection from Chester Beatty, followed in the late 1980s with more significant donations particularly when Alfred Beit donated 17 masterpieces from Russborough House.

The gallery made international news in the 1990s when its senior conservator, Italian Sergio Benedetti, discovered a lost Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, hanging in a Jesuit house of studies on nearby Leeson Street. The painting had previously only been known through replicas, and has been on show at the gallery since its discovery, with permission from the Jesuits.

More recently, the family of J.B. Yeats presented the gallery with a collection of the artist's sketchbooks, while noted art critic Denis Mahon bequeathed eight paintings, including a Guercino.

In 2002 the cutting-edge Millennium Wing opened, and currently the entire gallery is undergoing extensive renovations which should be finished by 2016.

For further information on the gallery's 150th anniversary see website.

General Info

Address National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square/Clare St, tel. +353(0)16615133.

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National Gallery of Ireland celebrates 150 years

National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square/Clare St, tel. +353(0)16615133.