Sir Hugh Percy Lane

Sir Hugh Lane Saloon Passenger Lost
Sir Hugh Lane image:  New York Times, Saturday 8 May 1915, Page 3.
Born Hugh Percy Lane 9 November 1875 County Cork, Ireland, United Kingdom (present-day Ireland)
Died 7 May 1915 (age 39) At sea
Age on Lusitania 39
Ticket number 46101
Cabin number D 26
Traveling with - Charles Fowles (friend) - Frances Fowles (friend)
Body number Not recovered or identified
Occupation - Art collector and dealer - Philanthropist
Citizenship British (Ireland)
Residence Dublin, Ireland, United Kingdom (present-day Ireland)
Spouse(s) none
Sir Hugh Lane (1875 - 1915), 39, was an art collector and philanthropist who established the first known public gallery of modern art in the world, Dublin's Municipal Gallery of Modern Art. He made significant contributions to the visual arts in Ireland and South Africa. Aboard Lusitania he was traveling with Charles and Frances Fowles. He was also rumored to be bringing with him paintings by Monet, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Titian. He died when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk on 7 May 1915 by the German submarine U-20.
  1. Youth
  2. Irish Cultural Renaissance
  3. Problems with Dublin's modern art gallery
  4. A curious oversight
  5. Lusitania
  6. "Those pictures must be secured for Dublin"
  7. The Lane Bequest
  8. Paintings on the Lusitania
  9. Links of interest


A native of County Cork, Ireland, Hugh Lane was born on 9 November 1875.  His father was a rector; his mother Adelaide was a daughter of Dudley Persse, of Roxburgh, County Galway. Adelaide's sister, Augusta, Lady Gregory was a dramatist living in Coole (near Gort), County Galway. Lane received an informal private education in the family home in Cornwall. He was a physically delicate child, therefore, while his brothers were playing sports outdoors, Hugh spent his time looking at paintings. His aesthetic youth led him to plan on creating a gallery of pictures, an ambition that he would have all his life. In 1893, when Hugh was 18, he worked as a trainee painting restorer for London art dealers Martin Colnaghi. He subsequently joined Marlborough Galleries for some years before establishing himself a "gentleman art-dealer" in London. Hugh Lane's eye for fine art made him wealthy, and he became an expert on Impressionist paintings. He helped enhance the collection of Impressionist paintings in London's National Gallery and became its director.

Irish Cultural Renaissance

Through regular visits to his Aunt Augusta in Coole, Lane remained connected with his Irish roots. This connection with his homeland would establish Lane as one of the leaders of the Irish cultural renaissance in the early decades of the 20th century. On a visit to Dublin in 1901, Lane viewed a painting exhibition by Nathaniel Hone and John Butler Yeats. Inspired, Lane began a campaign to establish a gallery of modern art in Dublin. Lane commissioned portraitist John Butler Yeats to paint portraits of distinguished Irishmen. After Butler left for the United States, William Orpen would continue the job. Even though Lane was one of the busiest art dealers in London, he devoted much of his time and money supporting fine art in Dublin. He raised funds and acquired and donated works from his own collection to the city. As a fundraiser, in 1902 Lane put on an exhibition of Old Master paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy. In 1904 Lane staged a major exhibition at the Guildhall, London, of nearly 500 paintings, all by Irish artists. This was the first ever exhibition of Irish art abroad. In the catalog, Lane wrote, "There is something of common race instinct in the work of all original Irish writers of to-day and, it can hardly be absent in their sister art." Soon thereafter Lane staged another show, this one devoted to modern and Irish art, at the Royal Hibernian Academy. The well-connected Lane made use of his circle of influential friends to ensure the success of these endeavors. He could count on his aunt Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats, Douglas Hyde, Edward Martyn, and Sarah Cecilia Harrison. Rumors persisted that Lane and Harrison were engaged.

Problems with Dublin's modern art gallery

Lane approached the city of Dublin to build a modern art gallery.  His collection of paintings were to be donated to Dublin Corporation on the condition that a permanent gallery of modern art be established for their display. This collection had 300 works of art and was described by Paris' Le Figaro newspaper as an "entire museum rich in beautiful works, a museum envied by the most prosperous states and the proudest cities" (20 March 1908). Among the works in his collection were La Musique aux Tuileries and Eva Gonzales by Manet, Sur la Plage by Degas, Les Parapluies by Renoir and La Cheminée by Vuillard. While waiting for this gallery to be established, his collection of art was displayed in Clonmell House, Harcourt Street, Dublin. This collection opened its doors to the public in January 1908. Lane was honoured as a Freeman of the City and was knighted in 1909 at the young age of 33. Lane had approached distinguished English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for the design of the gallery, who is credited for designing much of the city of New Delhi, India. Lutyens produced for Lane a spectacular "bridge gallery" over the River Liffey. The Dublin Corporation refused the plans for the art gallery over the River Liffey, citing that the dampness of the river would harm the paintings, and that the building would spoil the river view.  The true reason may have been due to the outrage local Dublin architects felt over such a prestigious building designed by an Englishman. In private, a frustrated Lane wrote to his aunt about Dublin, "I hate the place, the people, and the Gallery." In protest, Lane loaned his collection of contemporary French, Italian, and English works to the National Gallery in London. In the meantime, Lane was a consultant for the establishment of the Johannesburg Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, which was founded by Lady Phillips in 1909. In 1912, Lane also helped establish the Cape Town National Gallery's Collection of 17th Century Dutch paintings.

A curious oversight

Later, Lane was appointed Director of the National Gallery of Ireland.  Before leaving for the United States, he wrote a codicil to his will stating that his paintings, his famous collection of 39 continental works, would go to the city of Dublin should a suitable building be found for them in five years.  In a curious oversight, this codicil was not witnessed. Presumably, he intended to have it witnessed on his return. This oversight would lead to a decades-long battle over the rights to Lane's art collection after his death. By spring of 1915, still no progress had been made toward the completion of a gallery for his donated collection. Still, Lane visited America, where he sold Titian's Man in the Red Cap and Hans Holbein's Portrait of Thomas Cromwell to the American art collector Henry Clay Frick. In the United States, Lane won a contract for a portrait by John Singer Sargent in a Red Cross Rally.  Before boarding the Lusitania to return home, Lane told reporters, "I already have asked the most beautiful woman in England to pose for the portrait."


Sir Hugh Lane was returning to Ireland aboard Lusitania, where he was traveling with Charles and Frances Fowles, fellow art connoisseurs. Lane's ticket was 46101 and he stayed in cabin D-26. Lane was bringing with him 27 circular lead containers, purportedly containing the paintings of Monet, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Titian.  Lord Duveen had set up a deal that would lead to the paintings' eventual exposition at Dublin's National Gallery.  These paintings were insured for $4 million. On board Lusitania, Lane was seen playing cards with Marguerite, Lady Allan and Dr. Fred Pearson.  On the day of the disaster, Sir Hugh Lane was seen on deck looking out to Ireland before going down to the dining saloon. Sir Hugh Lane did not survive the torpedoing of the Lusitania by the German submarine U-20. Lane's body was not recovered or identified.  The paintings with him also went down with the ship. At London's Euston Station, a woman in black, identity unknown, inquired of all passengers disembarking from trains if they knew what happened to Sir Hugh Lane.  No one could provide her with any news.

“Those pictures must be secured for Dublin”

On the evening of 7 May 1915, Hester Travers Smith, a prominent medium from Dublin, Ireland, was sitting at the ouija board with playwright Lennox Robinson and Reverend Savell Hicks when they received the message, "Pray for Hugh Lane”. Those sitting at the table complied, and after the prayer, the traveler spelled, “I am Hugh Lane, all is dark.” Travers Smith had heard about the sinking but she and the others did not know that Lane was a passenger on board. Through the traveler, Lane told them that there was panic, lifeboats were lowered, and the women went first. He went on to say that he was the last to get in an overcrowded life boat, which overturned, spilling its complement into the sea. He remembered nothing until he “saw a light” at their sitting. “I did not suffer. I was drowned and felt nothing.” To verify his identity, Lane recounted the last time he had met Travers Smith, but when Travers Smith asked for Lane's cabin number on the ship, the number given to her was later found out to be incorrect. Travers Smith reasoned that it is not unusual for people to forget their cabin numbers or that passengers could remember their cabins' location without knowing the number. Lane also gave intimate messages for friends of his in Dublin. In subsequent sittings, Travers Smith recounted that Lane begged her to let people know that he did not want a memorial gallery established for him. Rather, he wanted the codicil to his will to be honored. As the codicil had not been witnessed, the London gallery would not give up the collection. “Those pictures must be secured for Dublin,” Lane communicated on 22 January 1918, stating that he could not rest until they were. Sir William Barrett, professor of physics at the Royal College in Dublin, tested the ouija board sittings with a variety of eye patches and blindfolds as well as board orientations and configurations, while still yielding coherent messages. Before one sitting, Travers Smith and Barrett discussed the messages purported to be from Lane and why the public doubted. Travers Smith recalled how Robinson’s arm was seized, forcing the traveler off the table more than once. Reportedly, Lane was upset over the doubts expressed about his communication. Poet W. B. Yeats also reported contact with Lane through a medium in London.

The Lane Bequest

Lane's wishes were not honored. The British position was that the codicil was never witnessed, therefore the paintings were London's. Furthermore, Lane's death did not expedite work on the establishment of a Dublin gallery, which did not happen until 1933. Only then did the Dublin Municipal Gallery of Modern Art move from its temporary location on Harcourt Street to Charlemont House, Parnell Square, Dublin. A British commission set up 1929 reaffirmed the British position on Lane's collection. Bitter disputes in court, parliament, and newspaper columns, went on for decades. Finally in 1959 a compromise was reached. London and Dublin would share the paintings in rotation, where the Dublin collection would be showcased in a gallery named after Lane. The gallery was renamed the "Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art" and is now the "Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane". In 1993 the sharing arrangement was redone so that 31 of the 39 paintings would stay in Ireland. The remaining 8 paintings were divided into 2 groups. Four would be lent for 6 years at a time to Dublin. These 8 include works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Morisot, Vuillard, and Degas. The National Gallery in London arranged for entire collection to be displayed in Dublin together for the first time in 2008. Until the establishment of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1991, the Hugh Lane gallery was the home of all modern art in Ireland. Admission to Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane is free.

Paintings on the Lusitania

In the summer of 1994, diver Polly Tapson claimed to have identified the containers in which the paintings were.  As the tubes were sealed, the canvases may have survived.  The Irish arts minister quickly placed a Heritage Protection Order on the Lusitania wreck and its contents, the first for a ship under 100 years old. An exploratory dive was proposed for the summer of 2007, which was controversial to those who regard the Lusitania as a grave site. Should the pictures be recovered, proposals have been floated that they be shared between Dublin and London like the rest of his collection, though Ireland would prefer to keep them.

Links of interest

Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane Sir Hugh Lane at Visual Arts Cork A Lusitania Victim Communicates
Contributors: William Graham References: Ballard, Dr. Robert and Spencer Dunmore.  Exploring the Lusitania.  Warner Books, 1995. "Hugh Lane (1875 - 1915)." Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. Web. 19 July 2011. <>. "This time, we Irish are keeping Lane's masterpieces." Art and Design Blog. The Guardian. 9 May 2007. Web. 19 July 2011. <> Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981. Hoehling, A. A. and Mary Hoehling.  The Last Voyage of the Lusitania.  Madison Books, 1956. Molony, Senan. Lusitania: An Irish Tragedy. Mercier Press, 2004. pages 43-46. Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002. Tymn, Michael E. "A Lusitania Victim Communicates." Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, Inc. Web. 19 July 2011. <>. "Sir Hugh Lane." Encyclopedia of Art. Visual Arts Cork, 2011. Web. 19 July 2011. <>. "Hugh Lane." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July 2004. Web. 19 July 2011. <>.

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