Some of the most valuable paintings in state-owned AIB’s vast corporate art collection were unveiled to the public at Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery yesterday.
Gallery director Peter Murray described the acquisition of 39 works by some of Ireland’s leading 19th and 20th century artists as “the most important leap forward in almost a century” for what is the only national cultural institution outside Dublin.
“The donation fills significant gaps in the gallery’s permanent collection, particularly in respect of the fine William Scott, and the Roderic O’Connor Red Rocks at Pont Aven, a wonderful post-Impressionist painting,” he said.
The 39 paintings — the top-end of the bank’s 1,000- strong art collection which is worth an estimated €10m — were acquired by AIB over 30 years with the advice of art historian Frances Ruane.
Most of the them were kept in the bank’s headquarters in Ballsbridge.
But following considerable contact between the government and the bank since it was taken into state ownership, a decision was taken to transfer the paintings to the state.
Legal ownership has now been transferred and the 39 top works will be exhibited free at the Crawford Gallery until April 14.
They include three works by Jack B Yeats, including his masterpiece, A Race in Hy Brazil, worth an estimated €1m, and works by Paul Henry, Gerard Dillon, William Leech, John Luke, Maurice McGonigal, Walter Osborne, Sean Keating, Mainie Jellet, Patrick Collins and William Crozier.
Following that, 27 will be returned to AIB on a temporary basis and the remaining works will stay on exhibit at the Crawford.
However, a further 991 works from the bank’s collection will be made available for exhibition in publicly funded galleries, through the aegis of the Crawford Gallery.
Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan launched the exhibition of the top 39 paintings yesterday and said it was his decision that the Crawford host the exhibition, and manage the rest of the AIB collection.
“I saw this as an opportunity for Munster and the South. It is important that art is shared through the length and breath of the country,” he said.
Gallery director Peter Murray said the collection was carefully selected over the years.
“These are works which a museum would have bought,” he said.
“Many corporate art collections are driven by people who just want to cover a wall surface, something bright, something colourful.
“But these are not just sporadic paintings acquired as the mood took people.
“It’s been built up very carefully, and tells a story in a complete sense, as well as the individual works.”
Chairman of the gallery board, John Bowen, said the acquisition is of “profound importance” which will increase the gallery’s appeal, and make the city more attractive to foreign direct investment.
“Executives want to relocate to places that have a very highly developed sense of culture and cultural heritage,” he said.
“So this makes the Crawford a much more compelling destination gallery to visit, and more significant in the cultural life of Cork and the region.”
The Crawford Art Gallery’s collection was established in 1819, when a set of Greek and Roman sculpture casts from the Vatican Museum in Rome were presented to the Cork Society of Arts.
Its entire collection was moved to its present building on Emmet Place, the former Custom House of Cork, in 1825.
Today, it has more than 2,000 works in its permanent collection, ranging from 18th century Irish and European painting and sculpture, through to contemporary video installations.
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