June 22, 2015 / 8:41 PM / 2 years ago

Anonymous donors stall controversial Irish art sale

DUBLIN (Reuters) - A fiercely opposed sale of Irish-owned artwork was shelved on Monday after an anonymous group of donors launched a private bid for paintings worth an estimated $12.5 million, potentially averting a messy political and legal dispute.

International auction house Christie’s had been set to sell the paintings, which include two pieces by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens together thought to be worth up to $7.5 million, in London on July 9 on behalf of the Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF).

The privately run foundation said it needed the cash to pay for the long-term upkeep of its remaining collection at Russborough House in Ireland.

But the decision provoked a public backlash and pleas from Irish lawmakers and heritage organizations to stop the paintings leaving the country.

Late on Monday, with political pressure mounting and facing a possible judicial review of the sale, the foundation said it had received a “generous proposal on behalf of some private Irish donors for the possible purchase”.

“In order to explore this promising offer... I have taken the decision to propose to the ABF board that the sale is postponed,” Foundation Chairman Judith Woodworth said in a statement.

She said that if a deal could not be reached by October, then plans to auction the artwork would have to resurrected.

Several of the paintings had been deemed too valuable to display at Russborough House, which has been the subject of four major robberies since 1974. The house and its extensive art collection were donated to the foundation by former British politician Alfred Beit in 1976.

Arts minister Heather Humphreys welcomed the latest proposal to buy the paintings privately, and said she believed it would involve using a tax relief scheme to donate the paintings to an Irish cultural institution.

Reporting by William James

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