Dublin City Gallery – The Hugh Lane
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Dublin City Gallery – the Hugh Lane
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Dublin City Gallery – The Hugh Lane information
Whatever reputation Dublin may have as a repository of top-class art is in large part due to the collection at this magnificent gallery, home to Impressionist masterpieces, the best of modern Irish work from 1950 onward and - the highlight - the actual studio of one of the 20th century’s most famous artists, Francis Bacon.
Founded in 1908, the gallery's home since 1933 is the simply stunning Charlemont House, designed by Georgian superstar architect William Chambers in 1763. A modernist extension, which opened in 2006, has seen the addition of 13 bright galleries spread across three floors of the old National Ballroom.
The gallery owes its origins to one Hugh Lane, whose failure to get any funding from an uninterested government and other commercial interests prompted WB Yeats to really have a go at the authorities and mercenary materialism in one of his most vitriolic poems, September 1913. Yeats was very annoyed, and while his disgust with those who ‘fumble in a greasy till/and add the halfpence to the pence’ was certainly justified, we wonder if his ire had anything to do with the fact that the very, very rich Lane was the nephew of Lady Gregory, Yeats’ own patron?
Poor old Hugh Lane didn’t get to enjoy his wealth or his art collection for too much longer, however, as he was a passenger on the ill-fated Lusitania and died in 1915. There followed a bitter wrangle over Lane’s bequest, between the gallery he founded and the National Gallery in London. The collection was eventually split in a complicated 1959 settlement that sees some of the paintings moving back and forth. The conditions of the exchanges are in the midst of a convoluted negotiation, but for the time being the gallery has Manet’s Eva Gonzales, Pissarro’s Printemps, Berthe Morisot’s Jour d’Eté and the most important painting of the entire collection (and one of our favourites of all time), Renoir’s Les Parapluies.
Impressionist masterpieces notwithstanding, the gallery’s most popular exhibit is the Francis Bacon Studio, which was painstakingly moved, in all its shambolic mess, from 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London, where the Dublin-born artist (1909–92) lived for 31 years. The display features some 80,000 items madly strewn about the place, including slashed canvases, the last painting he was working on, tables piled with materials, walls daubed with colour samples, portraits with heads cut out, favourite bits of furniture and many assorted piles of crap. It’s a teasing and tantalising, riveting and ridiculous masterpiece that provides the viewer – peering in at the chaos through thick Perspex – no real sense of the artist himself. Far more revealing is the 10-minute profile of him with Melvyn Bragg and the immensely sad photographs of Bacon’s immaculately tidy bachelor pad, which suggest a deep, personal loneliness.
You can round off a (hopefully) satisfying visit with lunch in the superb cafe in the basement, before making a stop in the well-stocked gift shop.