The National Gallery of Ireland recently reopened to the public following a period of extensive refurbishment and modernization of its historic wings on Merrion Square in the historic heart of Dublin.
This multimillion-euro refurbishment project was carried out by the Office of Public Works’ Project Management Services, with architects Heneghan Peng as the Design Team Leaders. The project is co-funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the National Gallery of Ireland, and the Office of Public Works.
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD explained, “Increased investment in our cultural infrastructure is one of the key commitments in the Creative Ireland Programme. The Government recognises that high quality infrastructure is critical for a vibrant arts and cultural sector and, furthermore, that investment in cultural infrastructure contributes to social cohesion and economic growth. High quality cultural institutions also add to the cultural life of the nation and allow members of the public to engage with and explore contemporary culture and historic artworks.”
Central to the modernisation work has been the construction of a state-of-the-art underground energy centre housing vital services for the entire Gallery. Original nineteenth-century architectural features and spaces are revealed and majestic windows now open onto a spacious light-filled courtyard created by Heneghen Peng. This new courtyard dramatically enhances visitors’ orientation between the historic Dargan and Milltown wings. It is also the site for a dramatic sculpture, Magnus Modus, by Joseph Walsh, commissioned by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the National Gallery of Ireland under the Per Cent for Art Scheme.
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD says “This completed project represents the largest single refurbishment of the National Gallery since it first opened its doors in 1864. The National Gallery can now take its place among the world’s finest galleries, with expanded exhibition space and international quality standards to safeguard its collections. The refurbishment of the Milltown and Dargan wings has not only increased the exhibition space, it has also allowed for the protection and preservation of the historic building itself, and I have no doubt that it will prove enormously popular with members of the public and visiting tourists.”
The period of refurbishment also allowed for an extensive survey of the Gallery’s permanent collection. More than 450 works have undergone conservation and research. The most spectacular of these is Daniel Maclise’s The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife (1854), which, after an ambitious conservation and research project, supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, has been preserved for future generations and returned to the elegant surrounds of the Shaw Room in the Dargan Wing.
Sean Rainbird, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland says: “We are delighted to welcome back all our visitors to enjoy the Gallery’s beautifully restored buildings on Merrion Square. We anticipate many visitors from Ireland and abroad to view our new presentation of the permanent collection and attend our exciting programme of exhibitions and public events. The refurbishment project has been a great success. We kept our doors open to the public throughout the lifetime of this project, and, remarkably, with over 80% of its galleries closed during that period, we attracted attendances of over 700,000 annually. We are indebted to our visitors for their patience and support throughout, to the Office of Public Works and design team, led by Heneghan Peng, and our parent Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This project begins a vibrant new chapter in the Gallery’s future.”
The refurbished galleries on Merrion Square display over 650 works of art from the permanent collection presented broadly chronologically. The Irish collections are prominent at ground level with European art on the upper level. The grand scale of the Shaw Room at entry level and monumental galleries in the Dargan and Milltown wings give displays a renewed sense of space and grandeur. The Gallery now breathes again as a place to explore and enjoy for all visitors and supporters.
All images courtesy of Heneghan Peng Architects.