Milltown papers

Repository: National Gallery of Ireland

Identity Statement

TitleMilltown papers
Archive ReferenceIE NGI/MIL
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1799-1974, (1891-1934 predominant)
Extent Medium3 boxes of paper textual documents.


Creator(s): National Gallery of Ireland

  • Administrative History ↴

    The Milltown collection originated from Russborough house, Blessington, county Wicklow. Designed by Richard Castle, Russborough, was built for Richard Leeson (1711-1783), the first Earl of Milltown, in 1763. The Leeson family fortune had been made by the first Earl’s father who owned a brewery behind his house on St Stephen’s Green and engaged in property speculation. Joseph Leeson travelled on grand tours of Europe in 1744 and again in1750, amassing on his travels a large art collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture, and antiques which would furnish Russborough. This collection was further added to by the second and fourth earls.
  • Archival History ↴

    Institutional Archives. In October 1897 Geraldine Evelyn Countess Milltown, widow of the sixth Earl, wrote to Sir Walter Armstrong, then director of the National Gallery of Ireland (hereafter NGI), to offer the Milltown collection to NGI in memory of her late husband. The offer was accepted and an extension, completed in 1903, was built to house the collection. Due to a disagreement between Countess Milltown and Armstrong (regarding his re-attribution to Pater of works from the collection which she believed to be by Watteau), a long delay ensued before the collection was delivered to NGI in March 1906. Further confusion and ill feeling was created by the number of varying schedules/inventories which were created from the initial offer, approved by Sir Walter Armstrong, to the delivery to NGI of a much large volume of paintings and artefacts in 1906. Countess Milltown was not satisfied with the arrangements made by the board of NGI to house the collection and corresponded with them, through her solicitors, detailing her complaints and demands for changes. Lady Milltown’s feeling was that NGI had not honoured the terms of the agreement as set out in the second schedule of the deed of gift. In 1912 the addition of a quantity of silver, to the initial gift, was negotiated by the parties. The correspondence between Countess Milltown and NGI continued until late 1913 and the matter remained unresolved on Countess Milltown’s death in February 1914. In 1914 the board of NGI approved a loan of paintings, furniture, and other works from the Milltown Collection to Lord Turton, nephew of the seventh Earl, and then resident of Russborough house. The loan of items from the Milltown collection to Lord Turton in 1914 with an addition in 1919 caused much confusion in later years. The Turton loan continued until 1929 when Lord Turton’s widow contacted NGI about the condition of some of the paintings. It became evident that no exact inventory of the loan existed. In December 1929 Thomas Bodkin, the director of NGI, wrote to Lady Turton: ‘I have been trying….to reconcile the scattered and somewhat formless inventories which we possess of the pictures, furniture, and other articles which the board of the National Gallery lent to your husband.’ Efforts to establish a definite inventory and to assist Lady Turton in returning some of the loan continued until 1931 when Russborough house was sold to Captain Daly. The balance of the Turton loan was finally returned by Captain Daly in 1934 with the exception of paintings by George Barrett which it was agreed would remain on loan at Russborough. In addition to this loan a quantity of the library books were transferred to the Oireachtas library in 1923 and the National Library of Ireland in 1932.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴

    Official Transfer

Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: National Gallery of Ireland ↴

    The Milltown archival fonds consists of papers relating to the Milltown collection at NGI. This includes papers dating from 1897-1913 relating to the intended donation of collection by Countess Milltown, papers relating to the proposal, design, and fit out of an extension to NGI to house the collection, and papers relating to disputes between the donor and NGI regarding reattribution of works the collection. Also included are papers relating to negotiations for the transfer of the collection and its delivery in 1906, continuing disputes between the donor and NGI regarding display of the collection, and an addition in 1913 of silver and furniture to the initial gift
    Papers from 1914-1934 largely concern the loan of part of the Milltown Collection to Lord Turton at Russborough; papers from 1929-1934 details effort by NGI and Turton to have the borrowed items returned to NGI. The sale of Russborough to Captain Denis Daly in 1931 meant that Captain Daly was involved in the later stages of returning the Turton loan and the retention of seven George Barrett paintings at Russborough.
    There are several different inventories and partial inventories among the Milltown papers. They relate to the donation of the collection by Countess Milltown (1897-1913), the loan of some of the collection to Sir Edmund Turton (1914-1919) and the return of the Turton loan (1929-1934). It has proved difficult to date some of the inventories and to identify the compiler. Where possible efforts have been made to ascertain the date and purpose of a particular inventory.
    Papers from 1923 and the 1930s detail the loan of books from the Milltown collection to the Oireachtas Library and the National Library, as well as the transfer of the Milltown silver to the National Museum in 1938; there are some papers from 1960-62 dealing with furniture which was part of the Milltown Collection. Papers dating from 1929-1933 detail a proposal to extend NGI.
    The Milltown archival fonds further includes enquiries to NGI from members of the public regarding the Leeson family in 1938 and 1939 and again between 1962 and 1965. Restrictions on access to later enquiries apply. There is also a file containing research for an article by Dr Michael Wynne, then assistant director of NGI, entitled ‘The Milltowns as patrons’ published in Apollo in February 1974 and three articles on Russborough house by John Cornforth, published in Country Life in December 1963. The latest addition made to the Milltown archive collection is the oldest item included: a receipt book of the second Earl of Milltown, covering the period 1799 -1800 when he resided in London. This was purchased by the National Gallery at Sothebys in 1988.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    All records retained
  • Accruals ↴

    None expected
  • Arrangement ↴

    The Milltown papers have been consulted on many occasions over the years and as such the original, administrative, order has been lost. In light of this the papers have been arranged thematically and chronologically in twelve series, for ease of access and use.

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Access by appointments and in accordance with NGI Library and Archives access policy. Restrictions apply in respect of some later material, in accordance with the Data Protection Act (1988).
Conditions Governing ReproductionReproduction in accordance with NGI Library and Archives reproductions policy.
Creation Dates1799-1974, (1891-1934 predominant)
Extent Medium3 boxes of paper textual documents.
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids NGI/MIL descriptive list Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

There are no Allied Materials

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteDorothy Redmond
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottowa: International Council on Archives.
Date of Descriptions2011