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Thursday, 11 May 2000

Vol. 2 No. 14

1998 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts.

Vote 43 - National Gallery of Ireland.

Mr. R. Keaveney (Director, National Gallery of Ireland) called and examined.

We will now deal with the 1998 Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts, Vote 43, the National Gallery. I welcome Mr. Keaveney and Ms Egan to the committee. I remind them that witnesses do not enjoy absolute privilege in the committee. There are no paragraphs for examination in the account.

Mr. Purcell

The account before the committee is the Vote account. I mentioned previously that it does not encompass all the activities of the gallery. The committee is aware that there are other funds under the control of the gallery, particularly the Shaw and Lane funds. There are also other bequests and donation accounts. The overall financial accounting for the gallery has been changed as a result of the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, and, to an extent, the requirements of that are still being bedded down. The Vote of Dáil Éireann for the day to day administration of the gallery is before the committee, together with approximately £250,000 given to the gallery to help fund its acquisitions of art.

We are happy to have this opportunity to answer any questions the committee may have about the management of the Vote, the gallery and its collections and the service we deliver to the public.

There is a vigorous fundraising committee which raises money in the private sector. What level of sponsorship has been forthcoming from the private sector?

There are two aspects to the fundraising. Capital fundraising involves the new development on Clare Street, the working title of which is the millennium wing. That building will cost £16 million to construct with global costs of £20 million. That is a major capital programme which dates back to 1988 and will be completed, hopefully, in summer 2001.

What is the purpose of that wing? Will it house a separate collection?

It has two purposes. It will enhance facilities for which there is inadequate provision in the existing building and will provide new facilities. The principle such facility is a state of the art exhibition facility to allow the National Gallery to host major shows of international and Irish art and to do it to the highest international standards.

Is there also an ongoing committee to deal with private funding?

We have a foundation.

It has charitable status. What percentage does it contribute to the running of the gallery?

On a day to day basis, it has very little to do with the operation of the gallery. The foundation is primarily involved - as things stand, exclusively involved - with Clare Street. The £20 million project takes a lot of concentration and a lot of support. We have other fund raising operations which are not under the foundation and which relate to programmes and more low key operations, for instance, exhibition programmes, publications and events. We do not have funding within the Vote for those operations and they are funded privately. When the National Gallery puts on an exhibition which may cost £100,000, this is managed out of own resources. When we publish new publications, which can cost anywhere from £20,000 to £50,000, we manage that out of own resources.

Is there any global figure? Can one categorise, in percentage terms, the funding of all the gallery's activities including exhibitions, publications and so on, which is driven purely from the State, that is the taxpayer, and funding from private sponsorship or other commercial arrangements?

The best figure I can give for 1998 is £91,000. The Vote is approximately £2 million so one can work that out as a percentage. That was the figure for 1998 which is the year under consideration.

There is huge private interest in the arts. This is demonstrated by the fact that the foundation will fund the new wing. Will it be funded entirely from private resources?

The gallery sank £4 million of own resources into the acquisition and preparation of the site and the management of an international competition. Of the £16 million to construct the building, £7.5 million came from the European Regional Development Fund and £2 million is a direct allocation from Government. We have a £1 million facility from Government from which to draw down in 2000 and which we pay back and there is a requirement for £6.5 million of direct fund raising in the private sector. Of that £6.5 million, the gallery has achieved just over £5 million. We are 95% of the way towards total funding for the project.

Congratulations. How does Mr. Keaveney see the development of the gallery as a national gallery? There is some debate going on as to whether one should have a separate gallery for Irish art.

There are different ways of looking at this. My own view is that, given the scale of the operation today, the best course is to combine the Irish collection with the international collection. The Irish collection benefits enormously from being put in a context of European art, which is what is has grown out of, what it relates to and the tradition to which it belongs. It is a specific national expression of the European tradition in the visual arts. It is tremendously beneficial that people who come to the gallery, perhaps to see Rembrandt, Vermeer or Poussin, are introduced to our Irish artists who are not put away in a separate development which might not have the same drawing appeal and could suffer from a lack of the oxygen of the public presence. This is beneficial, particularly in Ireland where the awareness of the national school of painting is not good internationally.

One cannot make a direct comparison in art terms between Dublin and London, obviously. However, there has been a tendency there and in other cities to separate collections and perhaps even to house them in different places. There is only one national art gallery, is that not correct?

Yes. It differs from country to country.

Is there an argument for having another art gallery? Some people have made the argument that the Hunt Museum should be a national gallery of sorts, because of the uniqueness of the collection.

In other countries there are many institutions which are funded directly by government. They are not necessarily called national but they are funded from central government. They retain their own personalities but are designated institutions which are funded directly from central coffers and are not required to manage their own finances.

Decentralisation has been mentioned in the world of the arts. Is there an argument for sending certain collections to the west, south or, God forbid, the midlands?

There is more than one model. Given the nature of our collection, people expect to see the National Gallery in Dublin. We promote and publicise our collection and people come to Dublin specifically to see the collection there. The bulk of the collection should be housed in the central institution.

One can organise exhibitions which will travel to the regions. That is contingent on the regions providing adequate and appropriate accommodation, support, infrastructure, security and so on. It is invidious to operate a double standard whereby we work to a high standard in Merrion Square and accept a significantly lower standard elsewhere. We are accountable and it is important that we work to standards of accreditation.

What percentage of the full permanent collection is on display in the gallery?

Works on paper will never be on permanent display. One must discount these even though they comprise the largest single element. They must be kept away from light and so on. We have approximately 2,000 oil paintings, of which between 500 and 600 are on permanent display. That figure, as a bare statistic, is misleading because elements within that figure need to be interpreted. For instance, approximately 400 of those paintings are small sketches by Nathaniel Hone and are not of exhibitable quality although they are part of the collection. They came as a bequest. Half of the remainder are of exhibitable quality but we do not have the accommodation for them, and the other half are probably not, for reasons of quality or condition. In this respect, it is important to have storage areas which are easily accessible, well maintained and where members of the public - if an object is not on public display - can access the piece in storage. Storage must be properly equipped, staff must be available and one must have the routine and organisation to accommodate and facilitate requests.

These are paintings which are not of a quality to exhibit. Are they bad paintings or are they damaged?

Are they in the process of being restored or are they just lying there?

In some instances we have paintings which, when they are restored, will be of exhibitable quality. There are others which can never be properly restored. They have gone too far or may even have always been in that condition. Then there are paintings which are not of sufficient quality or particular merit. It is a silk purse out of a sow's ear scenario. A paintings may have come as an element in a bequest where getting the important painting meant that we took other paintings as well. There is also the aspect of a museum which, as well as the primary collection, will have what is referred to as a study collection. This is not necessarily for public display but is useful for scholarly research, educational purposes and so on.

What is the biggest draw? A phenomenal number of people visit the gallery. I presume the biggest draw is still the Caravaggio.

The Caravaggio has the highest public profile. There is no doubt about that. The Vermeer is possibly our most important painting. The Rembrandt "Rest on the Flight" traditionally has been one of the favourites. We are adding to it all the time. Recently Sir Denis Mahon gave us a fabulous collection of 17th century Bolonese paintings. He has given us eight paintings. These will raise the profile of the Gallery internationally because they are of international standard.

Approximately how many people visit each year?

In the region of 700,000 to 800,000.

It must be the biggest in Dublin in terms of tourist——

Of the cultural institutions we are the biggest attraction.

How does it compare with other visitor attractions in Ireland? It must rank among the highest.

It rates very highly. The figure is available. It is a matter of looking at the other figures. I do not have them to hand. It is a positive figure and one that is indicative of the popularity of the Gallery, its contribution to cultural life and its popularity with the general public and tourists.

What is your view on Irish art in terms of the inflated values that have been paid in the London auction rooms and here for Irish works, the sense that much Irish art is leaving the country and perhaps institutions such as yours are unable to compete for important works?

The gallery does not exist in a vacuum, it exists within the economy. What is happening on the arts scene is simply a reflection of what is happening in the economy. Having said that, most of what is acquired at the auctions regardless of whether they are in London or Dublin with respect to Irish art are, for the most part, acquired by Irish collectors. Most of the work remains in the country and the economy is so strong that works that have been abroad are coming back into the country.

With respect to the gallery competing, we have made significant progress over the past number of years with new legislation. Section 1003 of the Finance Act has a global figure of £3 million available as tax relief for acquiring or securing works for a collection. This year our grant in aid for the acquisition of paintings increased to £750,000 which allows us to bid for significant works of art, although there will be works that will secure higher prices than that. I would not be surprised if at Sotheby's and Christie's auctions next week there will be key paintings that will make £1 million. However, £750,000 puts us in the frame and for the first time in many years the gallery will be in a position to secure works of real merit provided the bidding is right and we make the right options.

What is the other option? Obviously if the figure of £750,000 is breached you are out of the picture, no pun intended. Are you happy with the tax treatment of bequests and so on or would you wish to see further changes. For example, a person bidding for a painting held abroad on the basis that it would be given to a gallery or institution after a certain period being given beneficial tax treatment?

On the annual report for the year in question the piece on the cover is Antonio Canova's "Amorino" which was commissioned by one of the La Touche family at the end of the 18th century for their Dublin residence. That piece was secured in 1998 with the support of the Bank of Ireland. It had an historic link with the La Touche family. It was secured under section 1003 of the Finance Act. That section has made it possible for the gallery to secure works that belong to the national patrimony to keep them in the country or get them back into it.

You are happy with the financial tax incentives that exist.

Yes. Very significant progress has been made. Real tangible benefits have accrued. There is room for improvement and we will be advising on that but real progress has been made and we are immensely grateful for that.

I wonder if we could satisfy Deputy Lenihan's wish for decentralisation by keeping the gallery in Dublin but moving it to Dublin South West.

On the taxation and payment of estate dues or capital acquisitions tax through works of art, are you saying that it is up to £3 million per year or per individual?

It is £3 million. It is a global fund for the designated institutions, the National Library, the National Museum, the National Archives and so on. We all take out of the same pool. If one institution takes £500,000 the fund goes down to £2.5 million. It depends on what comes up, what is available and what is promoted.

At what stage in the financial year would this be depleted? Is the start of the financial year January or 6 April?

The vote is obviously 1 January but as regards the tax I cannot give you a definitive answer, it may be 6 April. I am sorry. It is available on consultation.

How many months does it take to reach the £3 million in today's values?

To date it has gone back into the second part of the year which is very good. That is not to say that with one particular exceptional opportunity it could go in almost the first month.

In the case of a family who is liable for CAT and who has a very valuable painting that the gallery would like and who would not be unhappy at giving it to the gallery on what date does it depend?

It may have to wait until the next year but on average it is worked into the second half of the year for the number of years it has been in operation.

Is there a queue of works of art to be donated to the State in lieu of CAT?

There are about four or five recommendations currently under consideration by the committee which includes the library, so archive material, writers' archives, the museum for archaeological objects, IMMA, the gallery and so on participate in that. Some five items are currently under consideration.

Are any of them art-related for the National Gallery?

Yes, there is one item.

Will you get it?

Actually there are two items. The capacity is within the system at present and if everything else checks out we should be in a position to get the two items.

The £3 million allowance seems to be adequate.

It seems to be adequate at this point.

As regards paintings in embassies, Government offices and so on how soon after the exit of a Government do you retrieve the paintings placed there by the Minister? When an ambassador leaves a residence do you take the paintings? I have seen some lovely paintings, very expensive——


When one becomes a Minister——

He wants to pick his paintings.

In the memoirs of a UK Minister it was stated the first thing he or she did was to go to the gallery to pick paintings for the office. What is the system there and how does it operate?

Interestingly, in the UK there is a national art collection facility which is completely separate from any of the galleries or public institutions that collects paintings for placement in government and ministerial offices. That is a significant collection and the person who administers it is paid handsomely, far more so than the director of a national public institution. That is where the bulk of paintings for display in Government offices, certainly in the UK, are.

In the United States, private benefactors frequently make their paintings available, which include anything up to a Van Gogh, to embassies as part of a programme that the American Government has. The embassy programme is supported by private patronage. Here, the gallery has been relied upon because the other facilities or agencies do not exist or have not been promoted. To the best of our ability, we work with the Department of Foreign Affairs, for instance, with embassies and with ministerial offices. For the most part we manage it in the sense that, where an embassy has paintings on display and we are happy with the condition of the embassy and the condition of the paintings and we have no overriding requirement to have the painting back, we let it ride from ambassador to ambassador. If, on the other hand, there is a particular need to get a painting back, we may take the opportunity to bring it back. The same goes for ministerial offices. If a painting is in a ministerial office and that presents us with no problem, nothing would necessarily be done unless the initiative came from the other side.

What about new Ministers being able to access and borrow paintings from the gallery for their offices?

The gallery provides this service by default. Ideally there should be a collection and a fund within Government. It is not necessarily the gallery's brief.

It is just done by contact with you.

That is the way in which it is usually managed.

I ask that we note Vote 43 in the accounts for the National Gallery. Is that agreed? Agreed.

On behalf of the Committee, I thank Mr. Raymond Keaveney and Ms Egan. Mr. Keaveney is obviously very proud of the gallery's activities, and rightly so. I thank you both for your presence. I also thank Mr. Breen and his team for being with us. Members need not leave. We will deal with any other business and agree the agenda for the meeting of Thursday, 18 May, which is as follows: Vote 38, Department of Foreign Affairs; Vote 39, International Co-operation; the 1998 Appropriation Accounts; the Refugee Agency Annual Financial Statement, 1994-1998; Votes 19-23, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the 1998 Appropriation Accounts (resumed). Is that agreed? Agreed.

The committee adjourned at 11.50 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 18 May 2000.