Dublin’s Great Exhibition was held in 1853 just two years after the first of these types of expositions of world trade took place in the Crystal Palace in London. These exhibitions and expositions were forerunners to the museums and galleries we know today. Thanks to a man called William Dargan, best known for designing Ireland’s first railway, Dublin’s Great Exhibition included an independent fine art display that was so popular it became obvious that there was an appetite for a national gallery in Ireland and so plans got underway and it opened several years later in 1864.
There is a significant history between the National Gallery of Ireland and Russborough House. In the early 1900s the Countess of Milltown gifted over 200 pictures to the National Gallery of Ireland from her house at Russborough, Co. Wicklow, as well as a collection of silver, furniture and books from her library. Many years later in 1987, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit (then owners of Russborough House) gifted 17 paintings to the National Gallery of Ireland. This collection comprises some of the finest masterpieces of European Western art, among them works by Vermeer, Goya, Velázquez, Gainsborough, Steen, Ruisdael, Metsu, Murillo, Raeburn, Hals, Jack B. Yeats and JMW Turner.