National Gallery of Ireland’s grand reopening worth the protracted wait

Hundreds of works were restored during Dublin museum's refurbishment


The National Gallery of Ireland will unveil around 650 works when its historic collection displays reopen on Thursday (15 June), its director Sean Rainbird says. Around 80% of the gallery’s exhibition space has been closed since 2011 to make way for a refurbishment by the Office of Public Works and the Dublin-based architects Heneghan Peng that cost around €30m.  

The redesign included the construction of an internal courtyard with windows that open up views across the museum, allowing visitors to orientate themselves “much more instinctively”, Rainbird says. The project aims to integrate 15 levels over four wings built between 1864 and 2002. It is “a real opportunity to learn to love the building again”, he says.

A broadly chronological rehang will transform the former Baroque gallery into a Grand Gallery, with paintings by Joshua Reynolds and Henry Raeburn among French, Irish, British and Scottish works. Every portrait commissioned since 1998—depictions of Irish personalities such as Bono—will be on show.

The collection will also “look sharper”, Rainbird says. Between 400 and 500 pieces have undergone conservation during the long closure. A badly damaged Perugino painting has been “lovingly restored”, he says.

While a continuous series of small exhibitions and events drew 750,000 visitors last year, Rainbird expects attendance to exceed one million this year. The reopening coincides with the major travelling exhibition Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry (17 June-17 September), co-organised with the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  

Future shows will be dedicated to the Expressionist painter Emil Nolde and to Frederic William Burton, the Irish painter and former director of the National Gallery, whose watercolour Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs (1864) was voted Ireland’s favourite painting in 2012.