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Chester Beatty Library exhibits thirty-three paintings that once belonged to Sir Alfred Chester Beatty
Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton, The Gleaners, 1854. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.

DUBLIN.- A selection of thirty-three paintings that once belonged to Sir Alfred Chester Beatty are on display in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle for six months (until 24 March 2013). The exhibition was formally opened by the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, TD.

The paintings are on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland and are part of a gift of some 90 works, mainly of the Barbizon School, presented by Beatty to the Irish Nation in 1950 shortly after his move from London to Ireland. He offered the pictures as a gesture of his appreciation to the Taoiseach of the day, John A. Costello, for his support and assistance to Beatty in making the move from London. Costello described the gift as ‘one of the most magnificent benefactions ever made to Ireland.’

For the first time, these pictures have been re-united with Beatty’s extraordinary collection of illuminated manuscripts and books, today housed in the Library in Dublin Castle.

The exhibition is an opportunity to reflect on the unparalleled generosity of one man to the Irish nation. While Beatty is readily associated with the great treasures in the Chester Beatty Library, it is perhaps less well known that he was also one of the most generous benefactors of the National Gallery.

Beatty concentrated on purchases of Barbizon School painters (like Corot, Jacque and Millet) and their Realist contemporaries (such as Breton). Unsurprisingly, he was also attracted to the work of Orientalist painters such as Gérôme, Fromentin and Berchère.

The exhibition shows a variety of genres and styles, and includes masterpieces such as Breton’s The Gleaners, Meissonier’s Group of Cavalry in the Snow and Country scene by Millet. A selection of Orientalist paintings on display includes Gérôme’s Gulf of Aqaba and Fromentin’s Falcon Hunt.

In 1935, Alfred Chester Beatty built a picture gallery in his London residence Baroda House. Here, he displayed his antique furniture and his growing collection of nineteenth-century paintings. With the outbreak of World War II, the collection was packed up and shipped to New York for safe storage, although Beatty brought some paintings with him to the apartment he occupied while his home became a military hospital. The gallery was never reassembled after the War.

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue written by Fionnuala Croke, Director of the Chester Beatty Library and previously Keeper & Head of Collections at the National Gallery, provide a historical snapshot of how Beatty assembled his collection of paintings unhindered by financial or bureaucratic constraints. For the first time it has been possible to place the paintings in context through the archival material in the Library, and from other sources. The result is a fascinating insight into how he specifically acquired his paintings and how he displayed them in his London home.

Fionnuala Croke said: “Many people will not be aware that in addition to the Library’s collection of manuscripts, prints and printed books, Beatty made a generous and substantial gift to the National Gallery. This exhibition is an opportunity to appreciate the diversity of the collecting activities of one man ranging from Egyptian papyrus texts to French landscape paintings. It is also an opportunity for our two national cultural institutions to collaborate and to pay tribute to Chester Beatty.”

Sean Rainbird, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland said: “This exhibition in the Chester Beatty Library is a welcome opportunity for visitors to see some of the finest nineteenth-century French paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland. We hope the public will enjoy access to these treasured artworks, which were gifted in 1950 by one of Ireland’s most generous benefactors, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty.”

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