$1 Billion Worth of Masterpieces in London’s National Gallery Actually Belong to Ireland

The disputed works include paintings by Manet, Monet, and Renoir.

Claude Monet's Lavacourt under Snow
Photo: The National Gallery/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

The exiting director of London’s National Gallery Nicholas Penny (see Nicholas Penny Steps Down from London’s National Gallery) has declared that a number of important paintings in the museum’s permanent collection morally belong to Ireland, the Guardian reports.

Thirty-nine paintings, today worth, together, easily over $1 billion, including works by Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, were bequeathed to the museum in the will of art critic and collector Hugh Lane, who was killed at sea in a German attack during WWI.

However, in an unwitnessed amendment to his will, Lane had specified that the artworks should in fact go to Dublin, to set up a new free gallery there which exists today as Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. As the addition to the will was never made official, it was never adhered to and the paintings remained at the National Gallery in London.

National Gallery, London. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Disputed Painting
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Les Parapluies(1881-86)
Photo: National Gallery, London. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

While introducing a lecture marking the centenary anniversary of Lane’s death, Penny verbally and publicly acknowledged the moral ownership of the paintings indeed belonged to Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.

“The National Gallery claims legal ownership of the paintings bequeathed by Sir Hugh Lane, but has long conceded that Dublin has some moral claim to them,” Penny said. “There are so many cultural institutions which should, even if they don’t, acknowledge that some other institution or some other country, has some sort of moral claim on the works of art in their possession,” he added.

Over the years many famous figures from Ireland, including poet W.B Yates, have expressed their opinion that the episode is a prime example of colonial looting from the UK.

Manet, Music In The Tuileries

Disputed painting
Eduard Manet, Music in the Tuileries Gardens(1862)
Photo: courtesy The National Gallery

The Guardian reports that, in fact, an agreement between the two institutions has now been reached in the shape of a sharing system, although ownership of works such as Renoir’s Les Parapluies (1881-6), Manet’s Music in the Tuileries Gardens (1862), and Monet’s Lavacourt Under Snow (1878-81) will remain with the UK.

“To have reached a compromise of the kind we have is something that I’m very pleased that we can advertise,” Penny declared. “We must always welcome people who feel we haven’t gone far enough in the type of acknowledgement we have made,” he added.

The new agreement expires in 2019, when some of the works will be potentially be in Dublin, a fact that some pundits believe will give greater claim to the Dublin museum over the disputed works.

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