Pressure mounts on Britain to return priceless paintings

Detail from Renoir’s The Umbrellas. Photo: PA

Brian Hutton

Pressure is mounting on Britain to return a priceless trove of impressionist paintings to Ireland.

In a resurgence of a 100-year-old row, once a nationalist cause celebre, city leaders in Dublin will consider formally demanding the hand-over of 39 works by the likes of Renoir (The Umbrellas), Monet and Manet.

The collection was originally left to London's National Gallery by Cork-born art collector Sir Hugh Lane, who died on the Lusitania when it was sunk by a German torpedo in 1915 off the Old Head of Kinsale.

It was later discovered that he wrote an amendment to his will, saying he had changed his mind about the paintings going to London and instead bequeathed them to Dublin. The amendment was signed but not witnessed and, despite a top-level government intervention in 1929, the National Gallery retained legal ownership.

Controversy raged for decades, and WB Yeats and Lady Gregory - Lane's aunt - were among those who campaigned for Lane's final wishes to be honoured.


Despite eventual agreements in 1979 and 1993, loaning much of the collection to the Hugh Lane Gallery, city representatives are considering a fresh offensive to have the collection officially returned.

Next week, Dublin City Council will debate a motion tabled by Fianna Fail councillor Jim O'Callaghan to return "the collection of paintings bequeathed to Dublin by Sir Hugh Lane but which continue to be retained in London."

Mr O'Callaghan said he was confident the motion will be passed and urged the National Gallery "to recognise that the moral right to these paintings rests in Dublin".

"It is important that the political representatives of Dublin indicate that they believe the paintings should be returned to their rightful home," he said.

"Once the current agreement is up, I think the fairest arrangement would be for the paintings to be returned to their proper home."