The cafe's retiring owner, Paddy Campbell, wants to gift the art to the State
Developer Johnny Ronan’s firm is suing Bewley’s over ownership of the café’s iconic Harry Clarke stained-glass panels, estimated to be worth around €2m.
A dispute erupted in December after Bewley’s owner Paddy Campbell vowed to donate the valuable artwork to the public.
Ronan Group Real Estate (RGRE), controlled by Mr Ronan, wrote to Bewley’s last month seeking acknowledgement from the Campbell family that the windows belonged to the property development company as landlord and owner of the premises.
However, a source said the response from Bewley’s was “unsatisfactory”.
RGRE has subsequently lodged legal papers and the two companies are set to do battle in the High Court once again.
Proceedings were issued in the Commercial Court this week.
A spokesperson said RGRE would not be commenting.
Ownership of the decorative stained-glass panels, commissioned by Bewley’s from artists including Harry Clarke, Pauline Bewick and Jim Fitzpatrick, has already been transferred to the café’s parent company.
RGRE is claiming that Bewley’s did not have the right to do this because the artworks are “integral to the building and are owned by the landlord”.
Speaking to the Irish Independent previously, RGRE said it was “more than happy for Paddy Campbell to remove any and all of his own sculptures from the premises”.
“It is RGRE’s wish that the premises remain open and accessible to the public, and that the windows continue to be enjoyed by all visitors. Indeed, it is a condition of the lease that the café remains open for trade and that the windows cannot be removed,” they added. It is understood Mr Campbell intended to donate the artworks to the State as part of his retirement wishes. This could potentially afford the parent company a lucrative tax break – although Mr Campbell says he is motivated by their artistic value.
Artist Jim Fitzpatrick, known for his iconic portrait of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, tweeted at the time that it was “incredible news” his stained-glass window in Bewley’s would be donated to the public.
However, RGRE said: “It is not in Bewley’s gift to transfer ownership either between its group companies, as it has purported to do, or to transfer ownership to the State as Paddy Campbell has so generously indicated are his wishes.”
The Campbell family said previously: “The works of art are not part of the building and did not form part of Bewley’s original sale of the premises to Royal Insurance in 1987.”
“The artworks have always remained in the ownership of Bewley’s, and have been protected, maintained and insured by Bewley’s.”
Bewley’s was in a protracted legal battle with RGRE over rent arrears that nearly shut down the Grafton Street café permanently last year – and not for the first time.
In 2012, Bewley’s took legal action seeking to have its €1.5m rent halved to €728,000, as recommended by an independent arbitrator.
However, this was overturned by the Supreme Court, which ruled in the Ronan Group’s favour.