Born in Cork, Sir Hugh Lane (1875-1915) was blessed with a connoisseur’s eye and developed a successful career as an art dealer and collector. A Board member since 1903, Lane was appointed Director of the Gallery in January 1914, and marked the occasion by gifting three paintings including El Greco’s St Francis Receiving the Stigmata. It was agreed that Lane could take up the post on a part-time basis, a precedent which caused unease amongst some officials in the British Administration and which would later cause difficulties for the Gallery.
Lane was one of the 1,195 passengers of the Lusitania who lost their lives, on 7 May 1915, when the ship was sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale by a German U-boat exercising Germany’s policy of ‘unrestricted submarine warfare’ off British and Irish coastal waters.
The last tour Lane gave of the Gallery was to his aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory, and W.B. Yeats. After his death, Lady Gregory poignantly recalled that ‘he took us through the rooms to show me all he had done and all he had given in those thirteen months. He was proud of his work and well pleased… His life’s desire had been accomplished; he had charge of a great Gallery already enriched by his bounty.’
Lane’s directorship coincided with the beginning of the First World War, a time when all museums had to forego their purchase grants. By the time of his tragic death, however, he had generously gifted twenty-four paintings. He bequeathed a further forty-two pictures, including works by Claude Lorrain, Poussin, Titian, Van Dyck, Chardin, Lancret, Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney and others. In addition to this, he left the remainder of his property to the Gallery, which according to his will was ‘to be invested and the income spent on buying pictures…’ The Lane Fund endures to this day.