The Bill really proposes only a small change in the existing situation. It does, however, give us an opportunity to discuss the Gallery and its administration. For a small country, we are very fortunate that this collection is in the capital and indeed any other city with a population of half a million people would be very fortunate to have the pictures we have in the National Gallery and also in the Municipal Gallery. It is understandable how they have come to be there. Dublin was the capital city and was and is the seat of government and did inherit a patrician tradition. The people of Dublin are very fortunate to have this collection at their doors in a most accessible and beautiful gallery, and despite what Deputy Dolan said, it is only at a cost to them of their share as taxpayers. Indeed, it is rather ironical good fortune for the city that rejected Hugh Lane and if the Corporation of Dublin had been more enlightened earlier, the pictures to which the last speaker referred, the Lane Collection, could have been included in the proposals in this legislation and legislation that preceded it. However, they were not enlightened enough and I hope that they understand how fortunate they now are. In other respects, for instance, in the present situation of the very generous offer of a concert hall, I hope the people of Dublin will be more co-operative than they were in 1910.
This Bill provides a slight relaxation of present conditions which permit pictures from the national collection to be sent to centres in the country, local government buildings of a suitable character. But the people do not know this and I discovered it only some years ago when we tried to get some pictures from the collection for a general exhibition in Cork. We got a dozen pictures from the Governors of the National Gallery and they were all third-rate. We tried to put up a very good front but they were not good pictures and there were far better pictures available there. All the pictures in the Gallery, because they are owned by all the people, should be available for any special purpose or any exhibition in any part of the country.
Of course, the preliminary to all that is the provision of a complete and proper catalogue because 99.9 per cent. of the people do not know what is under the control of the Governors. I suspect that some of the Governors do not know what is under their control, either. We should, of course, acknowledge at this stage our national gratitude to the windfalls that have come to us from strange places. The Shaw bequest has far exceeded the intentions of the donor, I believe, but then Bernard Shaw never realised how much more money there was on Broadway than there was in the Royal Court Theatre in London.
Our gratitude for that windfall should be acknowledged in some way in addition to that suggested by Deputy Dunne. I think a plaque should be erected on the premises at the National Gallery because there is no doubt that never has such munificence come the way of the Governors. This one single request enabled them to go into the big picture market and it is very fortunate that it should have happened when this inflationary wave has brought the price of great works of the Impressionist period into the realms of fantasy.
There is a curious shortcoming in the present situation. This collection is the property of the nation but it has not been catalogued or valued completely, I feel sure, ever. The collection must be worth several millions of pounds but we never hear anything about it; nobody makes a report on the work of the Governors from year to year. In the Dáil Library, I have asked to get a report of the Trustees of the National Gallery and I have found that in the 40 years since the State was established, no such report was ever made.
I should like to know, members of the House would like to know and the people would like to know, when the Trustees of the Governors meet, who appoints them, what, if any, decisions they make. I think the Minister should ensure that from now on an annual report will be provided by the temporary Trustees of this very valuable national property. I should also like to be told by the Minister what buying policy is being pursued at the moment. There has been some disputation in the public Press about the recent acquisition of the Murillo painting. This, I know, is very thorny ground because art appreciation is a very curious thing—what is one man's meat is very often another's poison— and there is a fashion in painting. The work of painters which was very valuable a few years ago has declined in value while the Impressionists and post-Impressionists now are worth a king's ransom. You could have bought some of those for old rope in 1920.
It is a very important thing from the national viewpoint, and particularly because of the great funds now at the disposal of the Governors of the National Gallery, to know how these Governors make their decisions. A good picture of the kind we read about in the newspapers, a Cezanne, a Monet or any of the Impressionists, would cost as much as Tulyar cost and its purchase could easily be as speculative. It is not easy to please everybody but the Minister should be able to tell us if there is a clear policy of buying defined anywhere and whether we are filling gaps. In other words, are we completing representations from different schools and are we seizing opportunities of picking up works that, even though speculative, might be worthwhile in the long run?
I am inclined to think that the first line of policy would be to complete our representation of all the schools. For that reason, I think an annual report from the Governors is highly desirable. What have we got? I am aware of the difficulties of cataloguing a great collection but I should be interested to find out if an attempt will now be made to bring the cataloguing up to date. It is very desirable, particularly in the light of this legislation, that this cataloguing should be completed so that those who might seek to benefit by the facilities now being widened would know what is there.
The very act of cataloguing would let us know whether it might not be wise and desirable to get rid of a lot of the material in the National Gallery because I think we have got many bad pictures there, as well as some very fine ones. We could get rid of a lot of third-rate stuff, either by sale or bestowal, because I feel it is cluttering up the stores. We should not send to other centres such third-rate stuff when they ask for an occasional exhibition because, as Deputy T. Lynch said, the directors might feel an ordinary human reluctance about the temporary lending of the plums, the prizes of the Gallery.
On the question of insurance, it is doubtful whether insurance is a wise policy at all. I think the State should really carry the insurance now. There is one picture in the Municipal Gallery in Charlemont House at the moment, a Claude Monet which, given fortunate circumstances, could run up to £200,000 at an auctioneer's bench in either London or New York. I would take a bet that it is not insured for more than £5,000. I am pretty sure of that and I should like the Minister to clear our minds as to the needlessness of insuring at all. It is practically impossible to get rid of all these very valuable pictures nowadays. You could take them and hide them but you could not take them and get money for them. I therefore question whether insurance should not be discarded altogether and the State stand the racket. There is a question, of course, about pictures being sent down the country on loan but I doubt if insurance should apply even there. As long as they remain inside the shores of the country, I do not think we should be throwing away vast sums of money in insurance cover because we cannot possibly hope to cover what we have since it would exceed the entire income of the National Gallery.
In the matter of public relations. it is desirable that the people in the country who, after all, own the collection, should be aware of what they have. I do not know how the postcard or larger-sized print reproductions are selling but I should like to see them on the counters. I think we should be at least as active in this respect as they are in the English galleries and in all galleries in Italy and France. Coloured lantern slide transparencies can be made very cheaply and they are a remarkably competent type of reproduction. They would be available for lecturers all over the country and would be invaluable in schools. The lectures conducted by Mr. White, now Curator of the Municipal Gallery, were valuable and useful and the Minister should impress on the Governors of the National Gallery that he regards that kind of activity as being very valuable.
When school books are being produced—and this is in the Minister's country—reproductions of some of our National Gallery possessions should be used to illustrate them. A set of coloured blocks is expensive but related to the circulation and the cost of a standard school text book, it would be a very small part of the cost. The very fact that these are our own pictures in this Gallery would add enormously to their interest.
I thoroughly approve of those excursions which are arranged for school children to the city of Dublin but no matter how important it is to go to the Zoo or the biscuit factory, it should always be insisted upon that a brief visit be paid to the National Gallery. I would recommend also to the Minister that he should discuss with his colleague, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, that one of the most effective programmes on British TV in recent years was the Herbert Reade illustrated lectures on art. They were enormously interesting and something similar should be done here. We should bring to light all our art possessions and do everything we can to make people aware of them. This Bill does help in that regard and I hope that advantage will be taken of the opportunities provided by it.
There are bodies in the country who could organise with the greatest ease interesting and useful exhibitions of parts of the National Gallery collection so that all the people in the country would have access to their own treasures and so that they also, along with the very fortunate citizens of Dublin, could enjoy these treasures.