Sir Hugh Percy Lane, art dealer, collector, and gallery director, is born in County Cork on November 9, 1875. He is best known for establishing Dublin‘s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, the first known public gallery of modern art in the world, and for his contribution to the visual arts in Ireland, including the Lane Bequest.
Through regular visits to the home of his aunt, Lady Gregory, in Coole Park, near Gort in County Galway, Lane remains in contact with Ireland. He soon counts among his family, friends, and social circle those who collectively form the core of the Irish cultural renaissance in the early decades of the 20th century.
Extolling the cause of Irish art abroad, Lane also becomes one of the foremost collectors and dealers of Impressionist paintings in Europe, and amongst those works purchased by him for the new gallery are La Musique aux Tuileries by Édouard Manet, Sur la Plage by Edgar Degas, Les Parapluies by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and La Cheminée by Jean-Édouard Vuillard.
The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art opens in January 1908 in temporary premises in Harcourt Street, Dublin. Lane hopes that Dublin Corporation will run it, but the corporation is unsure if it will be financially viable. Lane does not live to see his gallery permanently located as he dies on May 7, 1915, during the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off the west coast of Cork. The gallery, extended in 2005, is now in Parnell Square in central Dublin.
For his “services to art” in Ireland, Lane is knighted in June 1909 at the comparatively young age of 33.
Following his death, Lane’s will bequeaths his collection to London, but an unwitnessed later codicil bequeaths it to Dublin. Having possession, London’s National Gallery does not recognise the codicil. At the request of Lane’s aunt, Lady Gregory, W.T. Cosgrave, leader of the Irish Government unsuccessfully approaches Ramsay MacDonald on the matter in 1929. When John A. Costello becomes Taoiseach in 1948, he initiates further negotiations with the government of the United Kingdom, eventually leading to a compromise in 1959, under Taoiseach Seán Lemass, whereby half of the Lane Bequest will be loaned and shown in Dublin every five years. In 1993 the agreement is varied so that 31 of the 39 paintings would stay in Ireland. The remaining 8 are divided into two groups, so that four would be loaned for six years at a time to Dublin. In 2008, The National Gallery in London arranges for the entire collection to be on display in Dublin together for the first time.