THE Department of Foreign Affairs spent more than €25,000 moving paintings and other artwork when the Irish Ambassador to Vienna moved to a new diplomatic residence five miles away.
The massive bill was paid as a “donation” to the National Gallery, who in turn hired specialist movers to bring the art to its new home in the Austrian capital.
It was part of more than €70,000 spent on moving artworks to and from ambassadorial residences and embassies in 2015, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The largest bill arrived in November 2015 when the Ambassador of Ireland was leaving behind the country’s old €7,200-a-month residence on Hartackerstrasse, north of Vienna’s city centre.
The official residence was being moved five miles across the city to a €8,964-a-month property on Theresianumgasse, close to Vienna’s famous Belvedere Palace.
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As part of the move, specialist contractors had to be employed to move all of the artworks in the residence to the new property, according to records released following a Freedom of Information request.
An invoice for €25,504 after VAT was included was issued by the National Gallery for the big move for “transport of works from Ambassador of Ireland’s old to new residence in Vienna”.
On the same invoice, the Department of Foreign Affairs also paid €15,426 (€18,974 with VAT) to bring home another piece of artwork from the diplomatic mission to Berne in Switzerland.
On the invoice, it was described as “transport of damaged work from Berne to Dublin”.
According to the Department, the unidentified artwork had been damaged while in storage but that the repair works were “covered by insurance”.
A third moving bill, this time of €17,716 was run up at the Irish Embassy in the Hague in the Netherlands for a return shipment to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
The outbound leg of the trip involved more than a dozen paintings, each of which had to be individually packed and transported by ferry from the port of Rotterdam to Hull in England.
They were then taken overland to Holyhead before the final leg of their journey on the boat to Dublin Port and onwards to the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham.
The paintings included works by celebrated artists including Louis le Brocquy, Gerard Dillon, Colm Middleton, and Mary Swanzy.
According to the invoice, seventeen new paintings were then brought back to the Netherlands where they were installed and hung at the Irish Ambassador’s residence.
The transport bills are part of more than €130,000 spent by the Department of Foreign Affairs on “items of artistic value” in 2015, more than half of which related to transport.
The Department did also splash out on a number of new artworks, according to the records.
They spent €18,500 on a painting entitled Abbeyville by Hughie O’Donoghue which is now on display at their headquarters at Iveagh House in Dublin.
It is described as a “significant and historical piece of Irish art” and was bought from a private seller in January of 2015.
They also commissioned seven replicas of the famous John Behan sculpture Arrival, the original of which is located at the UN Plaza in New York.
The bronze artwork is of a famine ship and the seven replicas were purchased from Mr Behan at a cost of €25,000.
The new versions are now displayed at Departmental properties, which have been hosting a series of famine events.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said they had in place an agreement with the National Gallery and Irish Museum of Modern Art for the “loan and care of national art work”.
They said: “As part of that agreement, the Department is responsible for the transportation and insurance of these art works using qualified and specialist art transporters to ensure their safety and care.”
The moving firms were selected by the museums using the “appropriate specialists to pack, transport, and hang artworks”.
They said there were a limited number of specialised companies available and that the complex work involved made it more expensive than standard shipping.
In a statement, they explained: “The Department’s missions provide a platform for the promotion of Ireland’s trade and economic interests and cultural heritage, while also serving as showcases for Irish arts, craft and products.
“Irish artists are renowned globally for their artistic excellence. Promotion of Ireland’s culture, arts and creative industries through our mission network is a key element of the Department’s Statement of Strategy.”