A portrait of the art collector

The best-known victim of the Lusitania shipwreck, certainly in Ireland, was a West Cork collector and art dealer called Hugh Lane, who also took priceless masterpieces with him to a grave aquatic.

ane – who was in the D26 first class cabin on her last trip – was returning to Ireland with fellow connoisseurs Charles and Frances Fowles. He brought with him 27 lead tubes which would have contained paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian and Monet, intended to be exhibited at the National Gallery in Dublin. They were insured for $ 4 million, an estimated sum of $ 93 million in modern currency.

On board the ship, he played cards with Lady Marguerite Allan, wife of a Canadian shipowner, and Dr. Fred Pearson, American engineer, and donated £ 10,000 to the Red Cross for their war relief efforts. . On the morning of the sinking, Lane was seen on deck looking out over the Irish coast before descending into the dining room. His body and the paintings have never been found.

Lane’s life began 39 years earlier and just 25 miles from where it ended, at Ballybrack House, Douglas, Cork. He was the fifth son of eight children born to a clergyman and his wife, whose sister, Augusta Persse, was later known as Lady Gregory, founder of the Abbey Theater. Although he grew up in Cornwall, he kept in touch with his homeland through his regular visits to Coole Park in County Galway, the home of his aunt Augusta.

Hugh Lane was born in November 1875. His family history was troubled and he was spasmodically educated by a private tutor.

The penniless 18-year-old Lady Gregory found him a job as an art dealer at Colnaghi’s of London and later at the Marlborough Gallery. Lane had an exceptional sense for quality and hard work ability and in 1898 he opened his own gallery in London. In 1901, he met WB Yeats and attended a joint exhibition of works by the poet’s father and Nathaniel Hone.


Pierce Brosnan next to a portrait of Hugh Lane in the gallery, where the actor shot scenes from the film ‘Evelyn’.

Pierce Brosnan next to a portrait of Hugh Lane in the gallery, where the actor shot scenes from the film ‘Evelyn’.

Lane quickly built up an astonishing collection of modern and contemporary art, but it was the works of the Old Masters that he exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin during the winter of 1902-1903 before, in 1904, a collection of French impressionists.

He began lobbying for a modern art gallery in the city, and in 1907 the Dublin Corporation offered him the former townhouse of the Earls of Clonmel on Harcourt Street. The town also offered an annual grant of £ 500 to help run the town’s gallery and freedom, in 1908, while the king awarded him the title of knight for services to Irish art the following year. .

In 1907 Lane was neglected for the post of curator of the National Museum in favor of Earl George Plunkett, father of the 1916 signer Joseph. The poet Yeats was upset, as Lady Gregory recounts: “It was one of the worst crimes in his mind to neglect to use the best man, the man of genius, in place of the obedient official. timid.

In January 1914 Lane became director of the National Gallery of Ireland but paid his salary of £ 500 to a fund for the purchase of paintings. He presented six Old Masters to the gallery and also decided to bequeath his remarkable collection of over 150 works of art to the city of Dublin where he hoped a gallery would be provided to house them.

Public meetings were held in support of Lane and an appeal for funds was launched. Plans were drawn up for a sufficiently grandiose building, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The first building reportedly occupied a corner of St Stephen’s Green but was vetoed by the descendant of the Guinness family who donated the park. Lane’s favorite site, however, incorporated the gallery into a new bridge over the Liffey.

The gallery was not a popular cause at a time when hundreds of thousands of people lived in slums and politicians were primarily concerned with the national question. (Lane himself has said he became an Irish nationalist when he discovered that the windows in the Viceroyal Lodge could not be cleaned without an order from London.)

Opposition to the gallery was led by powerful newspaper owner and boss of employers, William Martin Murphy, who said: “I would rather see in the city of Dublin a block of low-rent sanitary houses replacing a smelly slum than all images of Corot and Degas never painted. “

However, union leader Jim Larkin backed the project, proposing a motion to the Dublin Trades Council “that Martin Murphy be ordered to keep an art gallery in hell”.

WB Yeats, once again, was embroiled in fury and wrote one of his greatest poems, September 1913, as an attack on Lane’s opponents who came mostly from the business classes.

The poem was originally titled “Romance in Ireland (On read most of the correspondence against the Art Gallery)” and began:

What do you need, having come to the senses,

But grope in a fat box

And add the half pence to the pence

And prayer in trembling prayer, until

you dried the marrow


Because men were born to pray and save?

Romantic Ireland is dead and gone

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

The company had in fact voted £ 22,000 for the project and more was raised privately, but Lane’s insistence on hiring Lutyens and at the Liffey site was provocative – the view down the river was reportedly blocked and Ha’penny Bridge demolished or moved, that’s what brought Murphy into the row.

Exasperated by the reluctance of the city fathers to accept his gallery project, Lane wrote a will bequeathing his 39 French paintings to the National Gallery in London. But a few weeks before his death, he added a witnessless codicil that left them in the city of Dublin. This change was signed three times but without witnesses, which led to years of often bitter conflict over where the paintings were to reside.

In 1959, the Taoiseach Seán Lemass negotiated a compromise whereby, every five years, half of the bequest would be shown in Dublin. In 1975, on the centenary of Lane’s birth, the Municipal Art Gallery in Parnell Square was renamed in honor of its generous benefactor and is now called Dublin City Gallery Hugh Lane.

In 1993, the agreement was amended so that 31 of the 39 paintings remained at the gallery. In 2008, the entire collection was exhibited for the first time in Dublin and the works continue to be shared.

In 2013, the National Gallery in London sent more than four of the eight paintings shared by renowned French Impressionist painters, including Les Parapluie by Auguste Renoir. A new exhibition ‘Sir Hugh Lane 1875-1915: Dublin’s Legacy and Loss’, is taking place in Parnell Square from April 30 to October 4.

But what about the paintings Lane carried across the Atlantic? In 1994, a British diver by the name of Polly Tapson claimed to have identified the lead tubes that contained the priceless works. The Minister of the Arts, now President Michael D Higgins, imposed a heritage protection order on the wreckage, which hampered further exploration.

Perhaps in the future some of Hugh Lane’s extraordinary cargo will surface in the light of day.

La Lusitania in figures

Length: 787 feet / 240 meters

Rough measure: 31,550

Funnels: 4

Masts: 2

Bridges: ten

The rudder of the Lusitania weighed 56 tons and anchors 10.25 tons each

30,000 tons First ship to weigh more than that

First ship to cross the Atlantic in less than five days

840 Tons of coal per day

Speed: 25 knots, max 26.35

4 million Rivets used in construction

Capacity of 2,165 passengers: 563 first class, 464 second, 1,138 third

Crew capacity of 850: 69 bridge, 389 bunkering, 369 engineering

Lifeboats: 22 standard, 16 foldable

Passengers of the last trip

First class: 113 survived, 177 died (39% survival rate)

Second class: 229 survived, 372 died (38% survival rate)

Third class: 134 survived, 236 died (36% survival rate)

Crew: 291 survived, 402 died (42% survival rate)

124 children on board: 94 died, including 31 of the 35 infants

Norma D. Ross