Located on Clare Street and Merrion Square West, Dublin 2, the National Gallery of Ireland consists of a purpose-built building with wings which have been joined by use of courtyards and corridors. Recently the Gallery underwent extensive renovation and the most recent wing was added, and the building is now better able to display the nation’s treasured art. This collection of photos explores how features of the building enhance the art and engage the visitors.
The Gallery was established in 1854 by an Act of Parliament. The original building, designed by Francis Fowke, was opened in 1864. The frontage had been specified to mimic the Natural History Museum beside it. The Milltown Wing was constructed to house a donation from the Countess of Milltown in 1901. The Beit Wing, designed by Frank DuBerry and named to commemorate art donors Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, was opened in 1962. The Millennium Wing designed by Benson & Forsyth, with its Clare Street entrance, was added in 2002, in a more typical city street. This entrance is near train, Dart and bus routes.
The atrium immediately gives a sense of the scale and space in the Gallery. This speaking statue of playwright George Bernard Shaw uses modern audio and phone tech to engage visitors. On the right is the cloakroom, cafe and wheelchair loan facility. The stairs are painted to bring colour into the neutral space – and there is an accessible lift. Near the stairs on the left, special temporary exhibitions are housed.
Painted to resemble a fashionable period house such as Russborough, home of the Beits, the Gallery’s rooms remind us of stately living and display portraits as they would have been shown when commissioned. Today’s rooms need to monitor humidity and smoke.
Brasswork requires polishing, but it doesn’t tarnish easily and the colour and shine reflect the gilded frames of paintings and mirrors. The visitor wanders from floor to floor with rooms invitingly open before their gaze. The Grand Gallery now has natural daylight pouring in through clear panels in the roof.
The renovations included making the gallery more accessible. Mobility impaired people can borrow wheelchairs, and lifts glide to every floor. Special platform lifts have been installed where a few stairs link floors that are almost on the same level. Accessible restrooms are provided. Audio guides are available and a guided tour can help those with reduced vision enjoy the art.
Only those with money could afford to commission portraits. These children are shown taking natural history lessons.
The slender side stairs, tall windows and curved pillars provide an air of graciousness and simplicity. Descending to the Shaw Room, where a grand piano provides for concerts in this ballroom space; a portrait hanging here shows a lady with her prized clavicatherium, an early piano.
One of the main attractions is this recently discovered Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ. Copies of this painting had been found previously and the original, painted in 1602, had been well documented. Only in 1990 was the work rediscovered, when an art expert saw it hanging in the Jesuit Fathers’ house in nearby Leeson Street. The restored painting is now on indefinite loan to the Gallery and was among those paintings chosen for an RTE series on The Nation’s Favourite Paintings.
Where better than a seat by the fireplace for the visitor to rest, and to share the experience of the weary washerwomen in the painting.
The contemporary portrait gallery includes the Portrait Of the Year 2018 award winner, a reminder to us that art must appeal to young people, and use modern media, if it is to stay relevant.
Sculpture as well as painting brings Irish characters to life.
The courtyard which connects levels and buildings, perfectly sets off this olive ash laminated wood sculpture Magnus Modus by Joseph Walsh, and larger than life art installation, Finding Power by Joe Cashin. Natural lighting, built surfaces and vertical planes contrast the soft curves, minimal colours and hard materials.
Walk around the National Gallery with this virtual tour.
You may also enjoy my visit to Dublin’s Gallery of Photography.
All photos (c) Clare O’Beara 2018