Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Wednesday 16 October 2019

'Short-sighted' - Cash-strapped RTÉ forced to put works of art up for sale

The late Louis le Brocquy with his tapestry ‘Massing of the Armies’ which is to be sold off by RTÉ
The late Louis le Brocquy with his tapestry ‘Massing of the Armies’ which is to be sold off by RTÉ
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Cash-strapped RTÉ is "selling off the family silver" and placing five works of art up for auction.

Two of the pieces, by Louis le Brocquy, were commissioned by RTÉ in 1966 and 2000 respectively.

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The other pieces going under the hammer are 'Abstract Painting' (1967) by artist William Scott, 'Symphony Orchestra' (1969) by George Campbell - one of Ireland's most pre-eminent landscape painters, and 'Inscape Mozaga' (1996) by Tony O'Malley.

The pieces which originally decorated the campus will be sold through Sotheby's at public auction in London on November 19. The guide prices have not yet been released.

RTÉ, which recorded a loss of €13m in 2018, will reinvest proceeds from the sale back into the organisation, but has not specified where the monies will be directed.

Management informed staff of the upcoming sale via a circular this week. The news was met with a degree of consternation. "It's sad that we have to flog art work from the campus," one RTÉ source said.

"RTÉ is supposed to protect culture."

Another source described the decision to sell the pieces as "short-sighted" and compared it to "selling off the family silver".

One of the largest pieces being sold is a 4.45-metre by 6.83-metre tapestry by le Brocquy titled 'Massing of the Armies'. The tapestry depicts a scene from the great epic, 'Táin Bó Cúailnge'.

It is based on one of a series of images originally created by le Brocquy to illustrate the acclaimed translation by Thomas Kinsella.

The tapestry was commissioned by RTÉ as part of a Millennium project, and was unveiled in the new Television Programmes Building in RTÉ in 2000 by the then minister for arts, heritage and the Gaeltacht Síle de Valera.

The other art work 'Táin' was commissioned in 1966.

Le Brocquy's work has declined in value in recent years; 20 of his 'Táin' tapestries sold for €250,000 in 2012.

However, auctioneers are confident his stock will increase in the future.

Last night, le Brocquy's widow Anne Madden said she had no moral objection to RTÉ selling the pieces but thought the broadcaster was making a mistake. "I think they are doing the wrong thing for themselves. Art increases in value over time, it's an investment," she said.

News of the sale of the paintings comes shortly after the director general of RTÉ, Dee Forbes, told staff to expect cutbacks in the short to medium term as the station could no longer afford to "continue as we are".

"With commercial revenues and public funding both significantly below what is needed to operate the organisation in its current form, our current financial situation is not like anything we have seen before," she wrote in an email. "As a result, it will no longer be possible to continue as we are."

Ms Forbes said the RTÉ board and the broadcaster's most senior executives had been "reassessing everything we currently do and what we can continue to do in the future".

She said the review was almost complete and she would share details with employees as soon as possible.

The outcome of the review is believed to be due following on from the publication of the Budget.

There have been other rumours of other cuts and cost-saving measures coming down the tracks.

There have been suggestions that Lyric FM could be taken off the air - met with an outpouring of public support for the station - and there have been reports that the Cork studio will soon be sold off.

The broadcaster is also rumoured to be considering cutting the salaries of the biggest stars at the station, with the RTÉ trade union suggesting a pay ceiling of €250,000 per star.

In 2017, RTÉ sold nine acres of its-then 32-acre campus to property developers for €107m.

Irish Independent

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