Wednesday 17 January 2018

Beit paintings could stay here as mystery donors make offer

Russborough House: art sale to be postponed
Russborough House: art sale to be postponed

Sam Griffin

A controversial sale of historic paintings at an auction in London by the Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF) may not now go ahead after a group of private Irish donors stepped in buy them.

The ABF's decision to sell the paintings at Christie's next month, in order to fund a €15m endowment required for the upkeep of Russborough House in Co Wicklow, had been opposed by a number of heritage groups.

However, the foundation last night said it had received a "generous proposal" from a group of Irish donors and was now seeking to postpone the planned sale.

It has refused to reveal any details as to the identities of the donors, whether they approached the ABF individually or as a group and how much they have offered for the works.

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys and heritage group An Taisce had both appealed for the sale of the paintings not to go ahead.

Ms Humphreys met the chair of the ABF, Judith Woodward, and two of its trustees last week.

Following the meeting, the ABF said it could not stop the sale due to the perilous financial situation of Russborough House. It would also be liable for a charge of up to €1.4m if it backed out of the auction at this stage.

But in a statement issued last night, Ms Woodworth said she had received "a generous proposal on behalf of some private Irish donors for the possible purchase of artworks" and she would now propose to the board that the sale be postponed. A meeting of the board will now be arranged to discuss the proposal.

"In order to explore this promising offer and conscious of the request of the Minister for the Arts...I have taken the decision to propose to the ABF board that the sale is postponed, that the foundation enters into negotiations with Christie's to arrange that and remove the artworks from the July sale," Ms Woodworth said.

A spokesperson for the ABF last night told the Irish Independent these negotiations would centre on the €1.4m levy. The ABF is hopeful it will not be forced to pay this charge.

Ms Woodworth said she remained "acutely conscious of the concern of the public and the comments made since the sale was announced".

It is understood the paintings could now be bought under a tax relief scheme and would remain in Ireland.

Two paintings by 19th century English artist John Atkinson Grimshaw, which were part of the collection, were sold by Christie's for a total of £112,500 (€156,000) last week. Another seven were due to be auctioned next month, including two works by Rubens.

Irish Independent

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