In 1900, Henry Vaughan bequeathed to the Gallery his collection of 31 watercolours by JMW Turner. To protect this vulnerable medium from the fading effects of harsh sunlight he placed a condition on the bequest that the works could only be displayed each year in January when light levels are low. The NGI now has a modern exhibition space designed to protect works on paper for any environmental threats, but the watercolours are still exhibited in January as this has become a much anticipated annual event.
Sir Hugh Lane, a Board member of the NGI as well as its Director for a brief time, was also a significant benefactor. While on the Board he gifted a number of works to the Gallery. After his untimely death in the sinking of the Luisitania, which was torpedoed by German submarines in 1916, during a voyage from America to Ireland, it was discovered he had also remembered the Gallery in his will. He left part of his residual estate to be used for the purchase of pictures and this was invested and continues to contribute to the Gallery today.
A third bequest that would change the financial situation of the Gallery fundamentally came in 1950 with the death of George Bernard Shaw. He bequeathed one third of his royalties to the National Gallery of Ireland, which, he documented as being of significant influence throughout his childhood. The rising star of Pygmalian, followed by the cinema production of ‘My Fair Lady’, translated into substantial sums of money that would place the Gallery in an entirely new league in terms of its purchasing power for works of art. The Gallery will continue to benefit from these royalties until 2020.
More generosity followed from the Shaw bequest. In 1978 the Irish government transferred paintings given to the nation by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty to the National Gallery. In 1987 the Máire MacNeill Sweeney bequest brought a further fourteen works of art to the collection including paintings by Picasso and Jack B. Yeats. In the same year the Gallery was once again the fortunate recipient of some of the contents of Russborough House when Sir Alfred Beit, a long standing patron of the Gallery donated seventeen masterpieces, including paintings by Velázquez, Murillo, Steen, Vermeer and Raeburn.