Hugh Lane's Pictures

May 12, 2005

Lately it's been mentioned in another thread about the rumors of some major paintings lost with Lusitania, these purportedly belonging to the Irish-born art critic, dealer and curator Sir Hugh Lane, who died in the disaster.

Lane has interested me since discovering that Lucy Duff Gordon was a friend and client of his; he sold her a Corot landscape that was among her prized possessions but which disappeared along with her jewelry (and a certain life vest!) after her death.

Anyway, the claim that Lane was travelling with valuable pictures is very curious. I haven't read yet the recent biography of Lane (so maybe I am missing a crucial piece of the puzzle here).

But I do have a copy of the third edition of the illustrated memorial book written by his friend Thomas Bodkins. He mentions nothing about Lane travelling with valuable paintings. Moreover, his comments about Lane's fear of travelling to the US during the war and the fact that he had written a codicil (much disputed) to his will before doing so, makes one doubt if this famous man would have taken the chance of transporting works of art as valuable as the Rubens and Titian paintings that are alleged to have been with him on his return.

Has anyone read the new book? Where does this claim of Lane's lost pictures originate?

In the meantime, here's a quote from Bodkins' "Hugh Lane and His Pictures" (Dublin: The Arts Council, 1956), page 42:

"....Towards the end of the year he was asked to go to America to give evidence in a law-suit as an expert witness. Though he was offered a large fee, he was most unwilling to accept the engagement. His health for several years past had been highly unsatisfactory, and he was in a distinctly neurasthenic condition. He believed he had not long to live and was very apprehensive of the dangers of travelling at that time. After much persuasion he agreed to sail from Liverpool early in 1915, provided that those who had invited him to do so would insure his life for 50,000 pounds...."

An unwitnessed codicil to his 1913 will, according to Bodkins, was written on National Gallery of Ireland notepaper and dated February 3, 1915. Lane sailed from England on April 8 and of course never returned.

Bodkins said that the document, which bequeathed Lane's modern pictures (then in London)to the city of Dublin, was found after the art dealer's death, locked in a drawer of his desk at the National Gallery. It was sealed in an envelope addressed to his sister.

This addition to his will was naturally hotly contested and the dispute went on for many years over the rightful ownership of the Lane pictures. It was not until 1959 that the governments of Ireland and England agreed upon a partnership to share the collection.

Lusitania buffs are likely aware of this but for those like me who are new to the interest, I thought some background might be useful.

Back to Bodkins: he relates nothing about any paintings being carried by Lane either to or from America. The only item of interest he tells about Lane's time in the US is that he sent a cable from New York to the Red Cross in London, promising 10,000 pounds.

Bodkins' mention of the circumstances of his friend's death is similarly brief, but very emotional:

"...He was drowned on his return journey, on the 7th of May, when the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, almost within sight of his birthplace. He was last seen helping women and children into the boats. Though no one saw him die, no one who knew him can doubt that his death was in keeping with his noble and unselfish life...."

I hope that someone can tell me where the story of Lane's lost art on Lusitania came from and if anyone has read the biography that was published (I think) in 2000.

Best wishes,

Kalman Tanito

Jul 9, 2002

I seem to remember vaguely that Colin Simpson's "Lusitania" said something about the lost paintings, sealed in some watertight tubes and perhaps still rescuable if found.

May 12, 2005
Thanks, I appreciate your taking the time to reply. I've a feeling that if Simpson's book is the source for the story then it's not a highly reliable one.

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