16/06/2015 Minister Humphreys meets with Chair of Alfred Beit Foundation to discuss Russborough paintings sale
The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, this evening (Tuesday) met with the Chair of the Alfred Beit Foundation, Judith Woodward, and two other Trustees to discuss the sale of paintings from Russborough House.
The Minister asked the Chair of the Trust to delay the sale, or to consider withdrawing the paintings from auction. The Trustees stated that they were unwilling to either delay or cancel the sale, as they would incur a fee of £1.4 million for breaking an agreement with the auction house, Christie’s, with whom they entered a contract several months ago.
“The Alfred Beit Foundation is an independent Trust, and I cannot instruct it on how to do its business. I had a very frank conversation this evening during which I made it clear that it would have been preferable if the Trustees had come to me before making their decision to sell the paintings. The fact that the paintings are now in an auction house in London makes this a very difficult situation to unravel.
“I am very aware of the challenges facing Russborough and other historic houses. I asked the Chair if it would be possible to delay the sale to provide some breathing space and explore all other possible options that would involve my Department and the Office of Public Works (OPW). The Trustees present declined, citing the fact that they would incur a liability of £1.4 million for breaking the contract into which they have entered.
“The Trustees also made it clear that they believed they are taking the right action to create an endowment fund for the house, which will provide an ongoing income for the years ahead. Furthermore, they again made the point that the paintings which are to be sold have been in storage, and not on public view, for almost 20 years. The memorandum and articles of association the Alfred Beit Foundation, also make it clear that the Trust is perfectly entitled to sell the assets of the Foundation.
“It is very disappointing that the sale cannot be at the very least delayed. I was informed of the decision last month – several months after the Foundation had entered into an agreement with Christie’s to have the paintings sold. The fact remains that my Department does not have the discretionary funds necessary – believed to be in the order of €12 million – to buy the paintings. I will continue to see if any other possible options can be explored. This, however, will be very difficult given the fact that the sale will proceed next month.
“Earlier this year, I established a Steering Group on Historic Houses, co-chaired by my Department and the Irish Historic Houses Association. I have asked the group to present me with an action plan to safeguard the future of historic houses by the end of this month. I hope this plan will help establish a template for how the State can support these houses into the future.”