Contained in beautiful Charlemont House on Parnell Square, near O'Connell Street, the Hugh Lane Gallery is FREE to visit and houses one of Ireland's top collections of modern and contemporary art, with over 2000 works. Charlemont House is a magnificently restored 18th century mansion, beautiful both inside and out, which once belonged to the Earl of Charlemont. Named after Sir Hugh Percy Lane, an Irish art connoisseur who died in 1915, the museum famously exhibits the reconstructed studio of Francis Bacon (1909 - 1992), an Irish-born British artist. Opened in 1908 in Harcourt Street, the museum is renowned as being the world's first public gallery of contemporary art. Today, the Hugh Lane is situated just metres away from the Dublin Writers Museum.
Some of the most popular features of the Hugh Lane Gallery, also called the Dublin City Gallery, include:
- A Rodin sculpture
- Caravaggio's masterpiece "The taking of Christ"
- Impressionist paintings by Renoir, Degas, Constable, Manet and Monet
- Works by Irish artists including Louis le Brocquy and Jack Butler Yeats
- A gallery of Irish-born American artist Sean Scully’s abstract Doric paintings
- A window by Ireland's great stained glass artist Harry Clarke (1889 to 1931), entitled "The Eve of St. Agnes"
- Reconstruction of artist Francis Bacon's studio, in all its messy glory
- Nice coffee shop in the basement, serves teas, coffees, snacks and light lunches during gallery opening hours.
Francis Bacon Studio
The Hugh Lane gallery's reputation as a leading art museum took a hugh leap in 1998 when the contents of Sir Francis Bacon's studio were brought from South Kensington, London to Dublin in 1998.
Who was Francis Bacon?
Born in Ireland in 1909, Bacon's family shifted home often between Ireland and Britain in his childhood, before eventually settling in England. Bacon only took up painting in his 30s. He mainly painted images of people, but did so with an innovative, raw, graphic style -- turning bodies inside out, with grotesquely distorted faces and twisted limbs. Not everyone liked his style -- Margaret Thatcher famously described him as "that man who paints those dreadful paintings". But toward the end of the 20th century, Bacon was being recognised as Britain's greatest living painter.
The Bacon Studio Today
Reconstructing the artists studio was one of the craziest jigsaw puzzles a museum has ever undertaken. Bacon's studio looks as if a bomb has exploded in the room -- it is a chaotic jumble of photographs, paint materials, slashed canvases, books, newspapers, magazines, vinyl records, handwritten letters and other objects, resembling a pile of junk. It is hard to imagine that anyone could work in these conditions, but Bacon produced some of his best works there. Warning to parents: Artistic teenagers who visit the Francis Bacon studio may suddenly feel justified in never tidying their rooms!
History of Charlemont House
Built in 1765, the impressive mansion that houses the Gallery was originally a home for the first Earl of Charlemont, James Caulfield. It was designed by Sir William Chambers, the Scottish architect who also designed Caulfield's wonderful Georgian folly on the north side of Dublin, Casino Marino. The new house was so impressive that 18th century Dubliners gave its street (today Parnell Square) a new name: Palace Row. Lord Charlemont was obsessed with collecting antiquities and oddities from around the world. He had met and befriended Sir Chambers in Italy while on one of his trips. A guest to Charlemont House in the 1830s described it as containing antique busts of both ancient characters such as Homer and contemporary figures; antique vases; a statue of Venus; two libraries stacked with both ancient and contemporary works; a small museum; and a medal room. However, the debts arising from Lord Charlemont's expensive collector's habit was to be his downfall -- his extravagant collection of curios at Casino Marino can still be seen today -- ultimately bankrupted his estate. Charlemont House was eventually sold to the government in 1870 and became, initially, the location of Ireland's General Register and Census Offices.
History of the Hugh Lane Gallery
Sir Hugh Percy Lane was born in County Cork in 1875. Privately educated in the family home in Cornwall, England, Lane showed great interest in painting and, aged 18, joined a London firm to become a trainee painting restorer. Within a few years, he established himself as an independent "gentleman art dealer", with a growing reputation as an expert in impressionist paintings that made him wealthy.
Irish Roots and the Cultural Rennaissance
Through regular visits to his aunt Lady Gregory in County Galway, Lane became interest in his Irish roots, and the then-burgeoning Irish cultural renaissance movement. On a visit to Dublin in 1901, he attended an exhibition by John Yeats, father of painter Jack Yeats and poet W.B. Yeats -- a cohort of Lady Gregory's and another important figure in the Gaelic renaissance movement. Lane commissioned John Yeats to paint portraits of various distinguished Irish figures, which can still be found in the gallery today. As he made links with other Irish painters, Lane next set out to establish a gallery of contemporary art in Dublin. At the time, this was an innovative idea -- in the early 1900s most art galleries contained only historic paintings, not modern (contemporary) paintings. Lane's was to be the first public gallery of contemporary art in the world. In 1904, to both publicise and fund-raise, he held an exhibition in London, featuring over 500 paintings by Irish artists.
Freedom of the City
Already busy with his work in London, Lane had trouble securing a location. At last, in January 1908, The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art as it was then called opened in in temporary premises in Harcourt Street, Dublin. Lane donated many of his own works, including works from his impressionist collection by Manet, Degas and Renoir. The opening of the gallery was such a sensation at the time, that it resulted in Lane getting the freedom of Dublin city and being awarded of a knighthood -- which is why he is today known as Sir Hugh Lane.
No Location Secured
For the next seven years, Lane fought hard to secure a suitable permanent home for the gallery, trying to persuade Dublin's city council to grant him a building. He commissioned the renowned architect -- famed for works such as the War Memorial Gardens and Heywood Gardens -- to design a remarkable building that would straddle the River Liffey, but the council objected on the grounds that the paintings may be damaged due to dampness.
The Sinking of the Lusitania and the Lost Paintings
In 1915, tragedy struck: Lane was passenger number 46101 on the ocean liner Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine, an event that partly caused the USA to enter World War I. Lane was travelling with 27 circular containers, which are believed to have contained paintings by Monet, Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian. Before voyaging, he had taken out $4 million dollars of insurance for his cargo. The paintings were lost with the sunken ship, and have never been recovered. Lane who died with all the 1,198 passengers on board, did not live to see the gallery move to its current location, Charlemont House, in 1933.
Opening Times and Admission
- Tuesdays through Thursdays Open 10am to 6pm
- Fridays and Saturdays Open 10am to 5pm
- Sundays Open 11am to 5pm
- Mondays Closed
Christmas and New Year Period -- closed on multiple days during this period -- please check the official website for more details.
Admission to the Hugh Lane Gallery is FREE