Ireland's oldest arts charity
History of the FNCI
The Society of the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland (FNCI) was founded by Sarah Purser in 1924, at an inaugural meeting held at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Their initial stated purpose was “to secure works of art and objects of historic interest or importance for the national or public collections of Ireland by purchase, gift or bequest”. The original list of members represented distinguished men and women from public life in Ireland and included George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty. The efforts of the Council soon turned towards the return of the Lane pictures to Dublin. The first gift made by the Friends was a beautiful miniature portrait on ivory of a Mrs. Coote by John Comerford which was presented to The National Gallery of Ireland at the suggestion of Mr. Lucius O’Callaghan the then Director in 1926.
In its early days, the Society was occupied with returning the Lane pictures to Dublin and securing Charlemont House to accommodate the city’s Collection of Modern Art when the Municipal Gallery moved from Clonmel House in Harcourt Street. Until 1965 the Friends were largely responsible for building up the Municipal Gallery’s fine collection.
The FNCI celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1974 with exhibitions of selected works presented by the Friends to the Dublin Municipal Gallery and other galleries. The purchase of works of all periods continues to be made or assisted, so that 46 venues all over Ireland have pieces on display which have been acquired through the Friends. These include a high proportion of paintings, some of considerable international importance, others important components in a national context; there are drawings, sculpture, prints, textiles, silver, objects de vertu, china, carvings, furniture, stained glass, photographs, manuscripts, book illustrations, jewellery. A selection of these forms the 75th anniversary exhibition display drawn from the first full catalogue of work which Aidan O’Flanagan, the Friends' Hon. Archivist, has compiled.
Council's visit to Aras an Uachtarain on 26th February 2014. From left to right; Standing:. Mr. Dermott Barrett, Ms. Mia Craig, Mr Lewis Purser, Mrs Croine Magan, Ms. Geraldine O'Connor, Mr. Adrian Le Harival, Mrs Elizabeth Mayes, Dr. Abdul Bulbulia, Mr. John Kelly, Dr John Turpin, Mr. Matthew Russell, Dr. Michael Burns, Mrs. Jennifer Waldron-Lynch, Ms. Marie-Louise Martin, Ms. Anne Farrelly, Lady Miranda Broadbent, Dr Hillary Carey, Dr. John GilMartin, Mr. Harold Clark. Seated: Mr. Arthur Duff, President Michael D.Higgins, Ms. Erika O'Reilly
Some Galleries and Museums which have received donations from the Friends:
The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin
The Friends of the National Collections of Ireland has a particular significance and association with Dublin’s City Art Gallery and has presented over 150 works of art in various media to the gallery – particularly during the years when the Gallery had no funds to make purchases including works by Bonnard, Epstein, Matisse and other modern artists. The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, established by Hugh Lane, first opened to the public in 1908 and set a new standard of aesthetic experience in the visual arts in Ireland. It is probably the only public gallery ever set up with an expressed desire to mould a distinct identity for a native school of art, examples of which were exhibited alongside their European contemporaries. Purser and her contemporaries wholeheartedly supported Hugh Lane's efforts to establish a Gallery of Modern Art.
The Gallery was temporarily housed in Clonmel House in Harcourt Street while plans were put in place to secure a permanent home for the collection. When a new place could not be agreed Lane removed his continental collection of thirty-nine paintings to the National Gallery, London. In 1915, while returning from New York, he was drowned on board the Lusitania, torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Co. Cork. Before leaving for New York he had written a codicil to his will of 1913, returning his French collection to the Dublin gallery; but this codicil had not been witnessed, and it was subsequently contested by London. A British commission set up in 1924, found that Lane's paintings should remain in London and form part of the Tate Gallery's European collection. The FNCI tirelessly lobbied the Irish Government to secure their return. In 1959 an agreement was eventually reached whereby the paintings were shared between the National Gallery, London and the Municipal Gallery, Dublin. The agreement was renegotiated in 1979 and again in 1993. Due to the efforts of the FNCI, the Dublin Gallery's collection now includes almost all of Lane's continental paintings.
The National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland was established in 1854. The idea for the gallery stemmed from the Dublin Great Exhibition of 1853. Public subscriptions were placed at the disposal of the Irish Institution; a building was erected on Leinster Lawn, Merrion Square, and the gallery opened to the public in 1864. The building has since been extended (in 1903, 1968 and 2002), so that it is now four times its original size.
To date the National Gallery of Ireland has received 47 paintings, 133 print room items, 4 stained glass panels and a sculpture through the FNCI. These span the 83 years of the Friends’ existence, and range from a School of Jacopo Bassano Procession to Calvary, once in the Earl of Portarlington’s collection, to a recent work by Anne Yeats. The works directed by the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland to the National Gallery have much enhanced the collection, particularly the Irish School.
The Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork
The Crawford Municipal Art Gallery in Cork can trace its foundation to the year 1819, when a collection of casts from sculptures in the Vatican Museum was presented to the Cork Society of Arts. This cast collection formed the nucleus of the School of Art founded that same year. By 1884, the school had become the Crawford School of Art, and a series of magnificent painting and sculpture exhibition galleries was added in that year to the old Custom House building that had housed the school and its art collection since 1830. In 1979, the Crawford School of Art moved to a different building, and the old teaching studios became new galleries for exhibiting the growing collection of the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery.
The support shown to the Crawford Gallery by the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland extends back almost fifty years. In 1955, the Friends presented to the Crawford a number of works by Daniel Maclise, including the important painting The Falconer. In more recent years, the Friends presented Paul Signac's fine watercolour Concarneau, an important addition to the Crawford's holdings by French artists of the 20th century, and Michael Ayrton's bronze sculpture The Minotaur.
The origins of the Ulster Museum stem from the collections owned by the Belfast Museum (opened in 1833) run by the Belfast Natural History Society, later the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and the Belfast Public Art Gallery and the Museum (opened in 1888). In 1961 the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, as the institution was then known, was transferred from the jurisdiction of the Belfast Corporation to a new Board of Trustees, becoming the Ulster Museum, a national institution. Over the years the Friends have donated or assisted in the purchase of 35 items now in the collections at Belfast.
The Ulster Museum houses an immense array of material including a nationally and internationally significant collection of fine and applied art from the seventeenth to the contemporary. The history collections include Irish archaeology and historical material from earliest times to the present day, collections from Egyptian and Classical cultures, treasures from the Armada, and ethnography. The natural sciences are represented by geology, botany, and zoology. Exhibitions and gallery displays are continually changed to provide the visitor with an insight into the diversity and importance of the collections.
A very good Irish Mirror Chandelier. Late 18th Century, the oval plate inside a frame of facet cut glass studs, fronted with a hanging chandelier with a multi-knopped stem with hanging lustre drops issuing two spiral reeded scroll arms each holding an urn shaped socket and lustre drops from drip trays, some later elements, 37" x 22" (96cms x 56cms).
Prominent Members of the FNCI
Purser (1848-1943) was a painter in oils and pastels, designer, art activist and patron. Born in Dún Laoghaire, she was educated at a Swiss finishing school and trained at the Royal Dublin Society Art School and in Paris. She exhibited, 1872-1930, in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, London, Liverpool, Paris, Brussels, and Boston, showing genre, landscape, flowers, portraits and stained glass. Purser was immediately successful with her brisk technique and Parisian mode and developed a lucrative portrait practice. In 1899 she helped organise the first exhibition of foreign modern art in Ireland. She organised a Nathaniel Hone and J.B. Yeats exhibition in 1901, founded An Túr Gloine in 1903, was a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1911 and was instrumental in the founding of the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland in 1924.
Hill (1916-2000) was a painter. Born in Southampton, he was educated at Marlborough college, Wiltshire. He became interested in painting and drawing and in 1933 studied stage design at Munich. He visited Vienna, Russia, China, and Japan and lived and painted on Bernard Berenson’s Italian estate, I Tatti. He became a celebrated portrait painter of royalty and also promoted James Dixon, first of the Tory Island painters. In 1981 he gave his Co. Donegal home, St. Columb’s (now Glebe House and Gallery), and its contents to the state; in 1999 he was made an Honorary Irish Citizen.
O’Brien (1865-1945) was a portrait and landscape painter. Born at Foynes, Co. Limerick, he studied painting in Paris, Antwerp, and London. Returning to Dublin in 1901, he became a prominent figure, serving as president of the Royal Hibernian Academy, 1910-45, the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society, and vice president of the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He was an academic painter, but his style loosened when he was painting familiar scenes, such as the Shannon, the Liffey, and Dublin Bay. Until 1920 he lived periodically at his family home at Cahirmoyle, Co. Limerick and his depictions of farming and family life there are among his most sensitive works.
George Russell (AE)
Russell, George William, widely known as ‘AE’ (1867-1935) was a poet, mystic, editor, writer and artist. Born in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, he was trained at the Metropolitan School of Art. He worked as banks organiser for the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society before becoming editor of the Irish Homestead, 1905-23. He was a leading figure in the Dublin Theosophical Society from 1888/9 until 1908, when he formed his own Hermetic Society. He became vice-president of the Irish National Theatre Society in 1902, a position he still held when, in 1904, this became the Abbey Theatre Company. He declined an invitation to become a senator of the Irish Free State but accepted the editorship of the Irish Statesman (1923-30) where he promoted young Irish writers.
George Bernard Shaw
Shaw (1856-1950) was a writer. Born in Dublin. He did not attend university but started work at sixteen as a clerk in a land agent’s office. He left Ireland for London in 1876 and was to live in England for the rest of his life. Some dozen of his fifty-two plays continue to hold the stage, and the larger-than-life persona of Shaw manages to reach a wide readership through the characteristic wit and iconoclastic energy of everything he wrote.