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Renoir masterpiece, L’allée au bois, acquired by National Museums NI

Renoir's L’allée au bois hung on a green wall with dimmed light shining down on the painting, with the Chief Executive of National Museums NI, Kathryn Thomson and Senior Curator of Art, Anne Stewart standing in front of it.
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A rare and stunning French Impressionist landscape by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), L’allée au bois, has been acquired by National Museums NI and will be on display at Ulster Museum from 6 June. This is a highly important acquisition for the Ulster Museum as it is the first Impressionist painting to enter a public collection in Northern Ireland.

Renoir was one of the leaders of Impressionism in Paris during the 1870s and 1880s. At that time Impressionist painters were creating an entirely new style of painting using fragmented brush strokes to evoke the changing colours and myriad qualities of light.

L’allée au bois is a magnificent example of Renoir’s skill as a landscape painter. Painted in a wood near Paris around 1874-1880, Renoir’s delicate brushstrokes combine to give the viewer the sense of entering a woodland where a light breeze gently rustles the leaves and grasses in the heat of a summer’s afternoon.

Anne Stewart, Senior Curator of Art at National Museums NI, said:

“This acquisition is a significant moment for Northern Ireland. More than 100 years after his death, Renoir remains a renowned Impressionist artist and his revolutionary landscapes are celebrated worldwide. Acquisitions reflect a time and a place, and in the case of this exquisite Impressionist painting, the beauty of a light-filled wood suggests escape, well-being, healing, and security.

“We are delighted to welcome a Renoir into the national collection and offer the Northern Ireland public the opportunity to experience the beauty of French Impressionism by such a renowned artist.”

L’allée au bois’ will enhance Northern Ireland’s national collection of Art and will give a deeper understanding of the work of ‘Irish Impressionists’ such as Roderic O’Conor, John Lavery and Paul Henry who travelled to France to study painting in the years after 1870.

L’allée au bois’ has been allocated to the Ulster Museum as an acceptance in lieu from the estate of Sheran, Lady Hornby, in memory of her uncle, Major Victor Cazalet (1896-1943). The Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, administered by the Arts Council, enables inheritance tax, which would be payable on the basis of the value of a deceased person's estate, to be paid by transferring ownership of significant objects to the nation. It is a key initiative for the UK's charities and museums as they look to enhance and develop their collections

Helen Birchenough, Chair, Acceptance in Lieu Panel, said:

“I am delighted that L’allée au bois by Pierre-Auguste Renoir has been acquired by Ulster Museum through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, in a hybrid agreement with funding from the Department for Communities (for Northern Ireland), the Art Fund, The Esmé Mitchell Trust and the Friends of Ulster Museum. The painting will be a wonderful addition to the collection at Ulster Museum which had no previous examples of paintings by the French Impressionists. I hope that this example will encourage others to use the scheme and continue to support our national collections.”

Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund, said:

“Renoir’s exquisite sun-dappled Parisian woodland is a brilliant addition to National Museums NI’s important collection. I’m delighted we’ve been able to support this acquisition, which is the first Impressionist painting to enter a public collection in Northern Ireland and will be enjoyed by the public for many generations.”

Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive of National Museums NI said:

“Art remains central to our offering here at Ulster Museum, and it’s incredibly important to us to continue enhancing our collection so audiences have access to masterpieces such as this. Art has different meaning to different people, and can be a medium to promote understanding of the world past and present.”

Four people standing beside a Renoir painting on display in the Ulster Museum.
Pictured receiving the art into the public collection are, left to right: Tony O'Neill, Head, Museums & Libraries Branch, Department for Communities; Anne Stewart, Senior Curator of Art, National Museums NI; Kathryn Thomson, Chief Executive, National Museums NI; Moira Doherty, Deputy Secretary for Engaged Communities Group, Department for Communities.