General acclaim for master's collection
Published 03/09/2010 | 05:00
THEY'VE been all over the world -- from Buckingham Palace to major museums and lavish homes, and even in the back of the van of Ireland's most famous criminal, 'The General'.
But yesterday some 40 paintings from the world-renowned 17th century Dutch artist Gabriel Metsu were brought together for the first time at Dublin's National Gallery of Ireland.
At the heart of the unique exhibition, set to run at the venue over the next three months, are two of the painter's most famous works: 'A Man Writing a Letter' and 'A Woman Reading a Letter'.
Dating from around 1664-6, the paintings were donated to the gallery in 1987, one year after they were stolen from Russborough House in Blessington, Co Wicklow. The theft, carried out by notorious crime boss Martin 'The General' Cahill, led to a massive garda operation to track down the £30m worth of stolen art, most of which was found in Britain and Belgium.
The dramatic recovery even involved a Metsu painting that had been sent to Turkey by loyalist paramilitaries in the hope of a major sale. Instead, they were confronted by Turkish police.
Curator of northern European art in the gallery, Dr Adriaan Waiboer, said the display has been in the pipeline for five years.
"We got most of the works on loan from other galleries around the world, but around 15pc to 20pc of them came from private collections, one of which (called 'Self-Portrait as a Painter') came from the Queen of England," Mr Waiboer said.
"It was being held in a private room in Buckingham Palace.
"With exhibitions like these, usually we get them into the National Gallery after they've started off in other countries. But this time, because we're responsible for it, the exhibition begins here, which makes it extra special," he said.
Metsu was born in Leiden, Holland, to a painter and midwife in 1629. He is thought to have created at least 130 paintings and drawings up to his death in 1667, on subjects ranging from religious imagery to portraits of women attending to daily chores.
Along with the 40 paintings at the exhibition are a number of historical props that can be seen in the background of many of the pictures, including an ornate Dutch picture frame dating from the early 1660s, and a silver goblet made from a buffalo's horn, which belonged to the Amsterdam Guild of Saint Sebastian.
The display, sponsored by the Irish Independent, is on show to the public at the Beit Wing of the gallery from tomorrow until December 4, before moving on to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.