It is with great concern that the Irish Museums Association has learned of plans by the Alfred Beit Foundation to sell paintings from the Russborough House collection (“Russborough House old masters for auction”, Irish Times, April 30, 2015). In December 2013 the Irish Museums Association expressed similar concerns about the disposal of Japanese ceramics from Russborough by the Foundation. At that time we reaffirmed our commitment to the principle that collections held in trust on behalf of the public should not be treated as realisable assets and should not be sold to cover day-to-day expenses or capital costs.
Like our sister organisations in Europe, we believe that de-accessioning of material from collections held in trust should only occur in the most exceptional circumstances and in compliance with the Code of Ethics of the International Council for Museums. The Heritage Council's Museum Standards Programme for Ireland also sets out the circumstances in which collections can be disposed of and the procedures which should be followed. The Irish Museums Association has sought confirmation from the Alfred Beit Foundation that these guidelines are being followed in the case of the proposed disposal of these remarkable and unique paintings.
Collections like Russborough find their origin in the generosity and support of individual donors, civic authorities and members of the public. Those entrusted with the care of these collections owe a duty to both current and future generations in how they carry out their stewardship. They play a unique role in the preservation of humanity's cultural, artistic, historic and scientific heritage.
The financial environment in which museums and historic houses operate continues to be extremely challenging and many in our sector find themselves faced with difficult decisions. However, we cannot compromise the central principle that we hold our collections in trust. Any breach or erosion of that trust will be hugely damaging to both the sector and the cultural life of the nation.
Institutions like Russborough need to be supported in their role as guardians. We are particularly concerned of the precedent set for other institutions that may find themselves in financial difficulties and who may be instructed to treat their collections as a realisable asset.
Click here for link to the article on the Irish Times website (access restrictions may apply).
Click here to see the letter from IMA as published by the Irish Times on 11 May 2015