The national collection of Irish artwork numbers more than 500, with the focus on Irish artists and their varied talents. But visitors to the National Gallery will find a broad selection of European treasures as well, representative of each of the most popular schools of painting.
The National Gallery opened in 1864, on the west side of Merrion Square amid a series of civic buildings, and displays a collection ranging in date from the 14th to the 20th centuries. The building was designed by Francis Fowke, who conceived the design for London's Victoria & Albert Museum. The institution was established by an act of Parliament in 1854, shepherded along by William Dargan, a rail network titan honored by a memorial statue on the front lawn of the gallery.
Highlights include Italian renaissance pieces such as Caravaggio's "The Taking of Christ" (1602), found in a nearby Jesuit house in the late 1980's, as well as works by popular FrenchImpressionists and Dutch Masters.
Famous paintings on display include Reynolds' " First Earl of Bellamont" (1773) and Vermeer's "Lady Writing a Letter With Her Maid" (1670). Also noteworthy: Goya's Portrait of Dona Antonia Zarate (1810), and Rembrandt's Rest on the Flight Into Egypt. In total, the gallery holds 2,500 paintings and more than 10, 000 other works of art. The British and Irish National Portrait Collection is displayed in the north wing of the gallery.
The Irish collection devotes a room to Jack B. Yeats, brother of the poet and a major figure in the world of 20th-century art. His painting "Liffey Swim" from 1923, immortalizes the annual event that still takes place in Dublin on the first weekend in September. Other notable Irish artists whose work is on display at the National Gallery include:
- Roderic O'Conor 1860-1940
- Sir William Orpen 1878-1931
- William Leech 1881-1968
The Millennium Wing is a postmodern addition to the original gallery building and is used to house part of the permanent collection as well as several traveling exhibits. The gift shop onsite is known for its wide selection of books available about the various artists and their lives and works.