Every country has its national gallery and usually locates it in its capital city. It’s no surprise to find the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. What might be surprising is just what a strong collection of European art it holds: Caravaggio, Titian, Fra Angelico, Vermeer, Picasso, van Gogh, Raphael, Monet, Rembrandt. There is also a major collection of British art, not surprising given the historic ties of the two nations, including 31 watercolours by the master J.M.W. Turner. And naturally in addition there is a significant national collection of Irish art.
Built in the mid nineteenth century, primarily to inspire and stimulate the local artists, the gallery building was designed by Francis Fowke, the architect of London’s wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum. Since then the gallery has grown and is now huge enough to be quite confusing – take a map; there are four wings housing over 2,500 paintings and 10,000 works in other media. The newest wing, the Millennium Wing (guess when that was built! – 2002), embraces all the latest technology for exploring art and touchscreen computers give background information on every work in the collection. The National Portrait Collection is housed here and is an excellent insight into Irish history, especially more recent history since there has been an emphasis on commissioning portraits of significant people. In addition, the Jack B Yeats collection and archive is an important insight into the working life on an Irish artist and his creative family. His brother was William Butler Yeats, one of Ireland’s most significant writers and a major figure in twentieth century literature worldwide.