A new chapter has been agreed between Britain and Ireland in an acrimonious century-old dispute over the ownership of 39 priceless masterpieces by artists including Manet, Monet, Degas and Renoir.
In 1915 the Irish art collector Sir Hugh Lane was among more than 1,000 people who died when the Lusitania, an ocean liner, was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland.
His will revealed that he had bequeathed his breathtaking collection of impressionist paintings to the National Gallery in London. But evidently he changed his mind. A codicil was found in Lane’s desk at the National Gallery of Ireland, where he was a director, leaving the paintings to Ireland. It was signed but unwitnessed, so London exercised its legal right to have them, sparking a bitter row that has continued ever since.
A number of compromises have been agreed over the decades involving paintings crisscrossing between London and Dublin. Twenty-seven paintings have been on long-term loan to Dublin for more than 50 years.
The National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin said on Friday: “In moving on from previous agreements made during the past 50 years, the two galleries are now committed to working in partnership regarding the care and display of these paintings in a spirit of collegiality.”
Under a new 10-year partnership, two groups of five paintings will rotate for five years in each location.
Group A, currently in London, includes stunners such as Renoir’s The Umbrellas, Daumier’s Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and Morisot’s Summer’s Day, which has a particular part in the saga because it was stolen from London’s Tate gallery in 1956 by two students intent on publicising Ireland’s claim. Three years later the first deal was reached.
Two works will remain in London: Studio of Ingres’s The Duc d’Orléans, and Puvis de Chavannes’ The Beheading of John the Baptist. The 27 paintings on long-term loan to Dublin – works by artists including Corot and Courbet – will remain on display there.
The galleries added: “In the spirit of partnership, the works will now all be labelled ‘Sir Hugh Lane bequest, 1917, The National Gallery, London. In partnership with the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.’”
Gabriele Finaldi, the director of the National Gallery, said Lane had wanted people in London and Dublin to enjoy and appreciate works that were then termed “modern continental” paintings.
“This new agreement strengthens the partnership between the National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery, enabling people in both countries to enjoy the paintings by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Vuillard and Morisot that he donated,” he said.
Barbara Dawson, the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery, said Lane’s establishment of a gallery for modern art for Ireland in 1908 was “a remarkable step for Irish cultural independence”.
She added: “This new partnership agreement underpins the collegial relationship that has developed between the two institutions. Importantly, it acknowledges the history and the role of the Hugh Lane Gallery in the provenance of these paintings and means that people in both countries can continue to enjoy Sir Hugh’s celebrated bequest.”
Oliver Dowden, the UK culture secretary, said the deal was “a brilliant example of cooperation in the cultural sector”. Hazel Chu, the lord mayor of Dublin, said the agreement represented “a unique cultural collaboration between our two countries and our two cities”.
The galleries said there would be a wide range of partnerships involving the care, display, preservation and promotion of the paintings.