Sir Hugh Lane, Director 1914-1915

Past NGI Director Sir Hugh Percy Lane (1875–1915)

Sir Hugh Lane (1875 - 1915), known as an art dealer and collector, was born one of eight children in November 1875 in Cork.  He came from an unstable family background and was educated through private tutoring at home.  In 1893 he gained his first position through his aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory, working for an art dealer.  He continued in this area until February 1898 when he opened his own gallery at 2 Pall Mall Place, where he further developed his talent for spotting a bargain.  Lane devoted much of his short life to establishing a gallery and a collection of modern and contemporary art worthy of the city of Dublin.  In the winter of 1902–3 Lane mounted an exhibition of old masters in the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin and after the success of this he continued to lobby for a municipal gallery of modern and contemporary art.  In 1907 Dublin Corporation finally obliged by offering him the former town house of the Earls of Clonmell at 17 Harcourt Street, along with an annual grant of £500 for operating costs.  

After receiving the freedom of the city of Dublin in 1908, Lane was honoured with a knighthood in the king's birthday honours in 1909 for his services to Irish art.   The inadequacies of the Harcourt Street location forced Lane to redouble his efforts on behalf of a new gallery. On 5 November 1912 he informed the lord mayor that he would withdraw his French pictures at the end of January 1913 unless the Corporation found a suitable site.  He later drew up a will in which be bequeathed his thirty-nine French pictures to the National Gallery in London, eventually retracted this in a codicil, in which he left them to the city of Dublin, which resulted in years of dispute over the proper home for these pictures.  In January 1914 Lane became Director of the NGI and he donated his salary of £500 to a fund for purchasing new pictures and presented half a dozen old masters to the museum.  In mid-April 1915 Lane boarded the Lusitania at Liverpool bound for New York.  On the return voyage a German submarine sank the Lusitania on 7 May off the Old Head of Kinsale not far from his birthplace.