Port of Cork donates maritime art collection to Crawford Gallery

The collection of the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork has been further enhanced by the donation of maritime artwork and historical pieces from the Port of Cork Company. In addition to important paintings of the harbor and its surroundings through the ages, the donation also includes a register of the ships of the Cork Port Commissioners, recording the visit of the Titanic and mentioning the Lusitania.

The Port of Cork organization, which is currently housed in the city customs, is expected to move to Ringaskiddy as part of major development of facilities closer to the mouth of the port. Plans have already been approved for the creation of a 34-story hotel – potentially Ireland’s tallest building – on the site of the Custom House, but with conditions around preserving aspects of the original building.

Cork Harbor Custom House building. Photo: Denis Minihane

Among the 17 maritime paintings that cross the city to the Crawford are 11 works by Cobh artist George Mounsey Wheatley Atkinson, of which the iconic paddle steamer entering Cork Harbor is already in the gallery’s collection . A former shipwright, this 19th century resident of what was then Queenstown is renowned for providing insight into ships of the time. The Crawford plans to exhibit the newly acquired pieces alongside other maritime pieces from its collection.

The Cork Harbor donation also includes works by mauve artist Henry Albert Hartland, famous for his watercolors and landscapes, skills he is said to have honed in the Crawford Building during his first incarnation as a school of cork art. Indeed, before being associated with art, the Crawford building served as the town’s customs house before these functions were transferred to the current premises of the Port of Cork.

Conor Mowlds, Commercial Director of the Port of Cork, also stressed that it is not just the paintings that are important in the donation.

“The collection contains a number of extremely rare and historically significant objects that would probably never reappear on the open market – in particular the silver oar from the Admiralty Court in Cork Harbor dating from 1686, which is unique without comparison and therefore irreplaceable, ”Mowlds said.

These Admiralty oars – that of Cork dates from 1686 – were a symbol of authority for the British Admiralty Courts and were placed before the judge when the court was sitting.

    Seán Keating's painting of the Port of Cork will join his famous work Men Of The South at the Crawford.
Seán Keating’s painting of the Port of Cork will join his famous work Men Of The South at the Crawford.

Mary McCarthy, Director of Crawford, said: “We are deeply grateful to the Port of Cork and delighted to continue to tell relevant maritime stories through the centuries to our visitors. The Gallery can also provide unparalleled opportunities for researchers and other institutions on Cork’s maritime history.

The donation from the Port of Cork is the second big boost to the Crawford collection in recent times. In October 2020, the gallery received € 400,000 in state funding, which it used to purchase artwork from contemporary Irish artists. An amount of 29 million euros has also been earmarked by the government for a major renovation of the Crawford building.

Thanking the Port of Cork for their donation, Catherine Martin – Minister of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media – said of maritime paintings for the public.

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