From the foundation of the National Gallery of Ireland to the present day, benefactors have played a key role in the development of the national collection. Whether through the gift of a single painting, a bequest of an entire collection, or a major financial donation, the generosity of benefactors has helped to enhance the experience of the Gallery for all its visitors. Such patronage has allowed this great collection to grow and strengthen, and has facilitated the expansion of the buildings that contain it.
When the Gallery opened to the public in 1864 the collection numbered approximately 100 works. Today, covering over seven centuries, it numbers over 15,000 paintings, works on paper, sculptures, objets d’art, silver and furniture. To date 45% of acquisitions to the collection has been due to the benevolence of private individuals, whose generosity has served to enrich our enjoyment and understanding of this unique collection.
View a selection of the generous bequests made to the Gallery over the past 150 years in this slideshow, including works by Degas, Picasso, Yeats and Turner.
The Milltown Gift, 1901
In 1897, Countess Milltown wrote to the Gallery offering the contents of her home at Russborough House, County Wicklow, in memory of her late husband the 6th Earl of Milltown. The Milltown’s gift to the Gallery was immense. Valued at the time at £40,000, it consisted of approximately 223 pictures, 48 pieces of sculpture, 33 engravings, and 528 pieces of silver, 200 pieces of furniture, a library, and various miscellaneous objects.
Find out more about works from the Milltown Collection
The Beit Gift, 1987
For the second time in the century the Gallery was to receive an outstanding gift from the owners of Russborough House. In 1987, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, long-standing patrons of the National Gallery, donated seventeen priceless paintings to the collection, including works by Vermeer, Metsu and Goya. In acknowledgement of their exceptional generosity, the 1968 extension to the Gallery was renamed the Beit Wing.
Find out more about works from the Beit Collection
The Chester Beatty Collection
Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968) was born in New York, of Irish descent, and moved to Ireland in 1950. He donated a large number of paintings and drawings to the Irish State and was generous in giving the NGI loans from his collections when he was out of the country. His initial donation to the Gallery in 1950 consisted of ninety three French nineteenth century paintings from the Barbizon School and was followed by further donations of pictures, frescoes and miniatures.
Find out more about a selection of the Gallery's Chester Beatty Collection