Homan Potterton took up the post of Director in 1980; at the age of thirty-three, he was the youngest Director ever appointed. His tenure coincided with a number of highly important donations to the collection. For the second time in the century the Gallery received an outstanding gift from the owners of Russborough House; Sir Alfred and Lady Beit donated seventeen priceless paintings to the collection in 1987. Unfortunately, four of these paintings were still missing, untraced since the robbery at Russborough in May 1986, perpetrated by Dublin criminal Martin Cahill, also known as The General.The paintings were later traced to Turkey and Belgium following a complex international investigation into the art heist.
Remarkably, the Gallery received another magnificent donation in 1987. Máire MacNeill Sweeney gifted fourteen outstanding twentieth century works in memory of her husband, John L Sweeney. Writing in the catalogue Acquisitions 1986-1988 Potterton observed, ‘In no single year since the foundation of the Gallery, in 1854, has it acquired such an array of masterpieces, and indeed one would be so bold as to claim that few galleries anywhere or at any time can ever have had such acquisitions within such a short space of time…Needless to say the Gallery could never hope to acquire such works except through gift or bequest.’
Mrs. Alice Murnaghan gifted Murillo’s The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel at the Well in 1987 in memory of her husband. At the time of its accession to the collection the painting was unidentified, its detail masked by layers of thick varnish. It has since been identified as one of six canvases by the Spanish artist that tells the story of Jacob.
In December 1987 a disheartened Potterton tendered his resignation, regretting that ‘the recession had unfortunately coincided with his entire period as Director.’