Thomas MacGreevy, Director 1950 - 1963

Thomas MacGreevy, NGI Director 1950-1963 (Portrait by George Collie, 1904-1975, NGI. 4029)

The poet and critic Thomas MacGreevy (1893-1967) became Director in 1950, and was made full-time Director in 1956- the first since Walter Armstrong. During his directorship, he presided over two of the most significant acts of generosity that the Gallery has benefited from- The Shaw Bequest and The Chester Beatty Gift to the Nation.  

On his death, George Bernard Shaw bequeathed one third of his royalties to the National Gallery of Ireland, which he documented as being of significant influence throughout his childhood.  

The mining magnate and millionaire of Irish descent, Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), presented ninety-three paintings to the nation in 1950. The collection was composed almost entirely of works by nineteenth century French artists including Breton, Couture, Meissonier, Millet and Tissot. Beatty developed a warm friendship with MacGreevy and took a great interest in the development of the collection. Making a pun on the name of a common pain-relieving tablet (May and Baker’s), he joked that ‘old M&B’ (MacGreevy and Beatty) would solve the Gallery’s problems. Throughout the 1950s the Gallery continued to benefit from Beatty’s generosity as he gifted a further 48 paintings, 253 drawings and miniatures, and six sculptures.

In 1919 Mrs. Eleanor Hone, widow of Nathaniel Hone RHA (1831-1917), bequeathed a collection of works by her late husband, the largest gift representing any one artist.  After protracted legal issues, the Gallery, under the leadership of MacGreevy, accessioned 211 oil paintings and 336 watercolours into the collection in 1951. 

MacGreevy had sought government funding to refurbish and increase the size of the Gallery; however his efforts did not come to fruition until James White took over the directorship.  Based on designs by Frank du Berry, Senior Architect at the Office of Public Works, construction work was completed in May 1968. The new wing (today known as the Beit Wing) provided space for a restaurant, and increased the overall hanging space by 50% with the addition of ten new exhibition galleries, including a special room for miniatures, and two large rooms for drawings increasing. Other additions included a new lecture theatre, library and conservation studio.