After revelling in the Merrion Hotel’s own extraordinary collection of art, where do you go to discover more? Rain or shine, a tour through the galleries and museums of Dublin will not only introduce you to some extraordinary works of art, it will also bring you through magnificent buildings and glorious gardens too. You’ll find the Merrion is ideally placed as your base, and don’t worry if you get hungry en route, all the museums and galleries mentioned have their own charming cafés!
Start just down the road from the Merrion Hotel at the National Gallery of Ireland. Reopened in June after a long period of renovation, the building, with its historic, and newer wings, is magnificent. The older part was purpose-built, and when it opened in 1864, it had just 125 paintings in its collection. In fact the great hall was designed to make up for the fact that there was more space than artworks… Fast forward to today, and you’ll find a world class collection, including works by Vermeer, Caravaggio and Velázquez, as well as a stunning series by Irish artist Jack B. Yeats – brother of the poet WB. Entrance to the permanent collection is free, though expect to book in advance and pay for special exhibitions. An extraordinary exhibition: Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting is running until September 17th – an absolute must see. www.nationalgallery.ie
The Merrion is actually perfectly placed for art viewing. Not only will you find wonderful works on our own walls, but head up the road from the hotel to find the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Established by Royal Charter in 1821, the RHA originally had its premises on Lower Abbey Street, but these were destroyed during the Easter Rising of 1916. The Keeper escaped with his life, clutching the Charter, but the entire Annual Exhibition of that year was lost. The Academy found a new home in Ely Place in 1939, and since then has established a reputation for cutting edge shows by leading Irish and international artists in the impressive main spaces. They also have a policy of introducing the most exciting new young and emerging artists in the Ashford Gallery, and showcasing members’ works too. The 187th RHA Annual Exhibition runs until August 12th. All exhibitions are free. www.rhagallerie.ie.
Head across the river and up to Parnell Square to find the Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane (or simply the Hugh Lane to most Dubliners!). The gallery’s home, Charlemont House, was built for the 1st Earl of Charlemont in 1765, and became the permanent location of Dublin’s Municipal gallery in 1933. A new wing, added in 2006 gives you the best of both contemporary and period architecture. The establishment of the gallery was not without controversy. Famous collector, Sir Hugh Lane, had bequeathed his collection to the Irish State on condition they gave it a permanent home. Alternatively it was to go to London’s National Gallery. A later codicil gave it to Dublin, but Lane died when the Lusitania was torpedoed without the codicil being witnessed. With both countries laying claim to his magnificent Impressionist collection, a deal was eventually reached by which the two cities share, rotating the works by Renoir, Pissarro, Manet, Monet and Degas over time. See also contemporary exhibitions, a delicious room of Harry Clarke’s marvellous stained glass, and the studio of Francis Bacon, painstakingly reconstructed in the land of the painter’s birth. www.hugh.lane.ie.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) lies to the west of the Merrion Hotel, in Kilmainham. The hotel Concierge will help you with the best way of getting there. On the site of a former Royal Hospital, a home for retired soldiers in fact, it is one of the finest 17th century buildings in Ireland. You can enjoy contemporary exhibitions, highlights from the permanent collection, and, until 2021, a special series of shows featuring the work of Lucien Freud. Another highlight of a trip to IMMA is the restored formal gardens, while the building itself, set around an elegant courtyard is charming. The style is based on Les Invalides in Paris, and you can spot outdoor sculptures here and there as you go. Admission is free for the permanent collection, while admission charges apply to some special exhibitions. As Above So Below, exploring spiritualism and visions through the work of artists from Hilma af Klint to Steve McQueen runs until August 27th. Check the website for booking details. www.imma.ie.
Alongside these spaces for art – from Old Masters to cutting edge Contemporary – Dublin also has a thriving commercial gallery scene, which we’ll be exploring in a future post. We’ll also take a look at Dublin’s other museums, including the gem that is the Chester Beatty, and Dubliners’ favourite: the National History Museum. Have a wonderful visit!