An 1826 engraving of the house from "Neale's Views of Seats"
Built / Designed For: 1st Earl of Milltown
House & Family History: Russborough was built for Joseph Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown, a brewer and member of parliament. The house is noted for its lavish and witty plasterwork by the Lafranchini brothers. In 1952 Russborough was purchased by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, who saw an advertisement for the house in "Country Life" magazine. In 1976 Sir Alfred set up the Alfred Beit Foundation, an art foundation and education trust, which owns the house today.
Collections: The picture collection formed by Sir Alfred Beit at Russborough was one of the finest private art collections in Europe, with prominent works by Vermeer, Metsu, Ruisdael, Goya, Gainsborough, and Hobbema. The majority of the collection was given to The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (some pictures are on regular loan from The National Gallery to Russborough), but important pieces remain in the collection of the Alfred Beit Foundation at Russborough. The house achieved international notoriety in 1974 when a major art theft occurred (the pictures were later recovered). In April 2015 Christie's announced that, on July 9, 2015, it was to sell a group of Old Master paintings from Russborough that were to include Peter Paul Rubens's "Head of a Bearded Man" (estimate: £2-3 million) and "Venus and Jupiter" (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million), a Kermesse scene by David Teniers the Younger (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million), a rare religious work by Adriaen van Ostade, "Adoration of the Shepherds" (estimate: £600,000-800,000), and a pair of Venetian views by Francesco Guardi (estimate: £300,000-500,000). The works were to be sold by the foundation to set up an endowment fund to safeguard the long term future of Russborough. The sale of these paintings was very controversial in Ireland; after considerable public pressure, Christie's announced, on June 25, 2015, that it had withdrawn from its July 9 sale the seven pictures owned by the Alfred Beit Foundation. The auction house said the decision "followed the Foundation's request to postpone the sale of these works in order to explore philanthropic alternatives before October 2015." Russborough also contains important Louis XVI chairs covered in Gobelins tapestries.
Comments: Russborough is frequently called the most beautiful house in Ireland.
John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: 2.S. Vol. III, 1826.
Country Life: LXXXI, 94, 120, 1937. CXXXIV, 1464, 1623, 1686, 1963.
Title: Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age
Author: Worsley, Giles
Year Published: 1995
Reference: pg. 169
Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art)
Book Type: Hardback
House Listed: Unknown
Park Listed: Unknown
Past Seat / Home of: Joseph Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown, 1750-83; Joseph Leeson, 2nd Earl of Milltown, 1783-1801; Brice Leeson, 3rd Earl of Milltown, 1801-07; Joseph Leeson, 4th Earl of Milltown, 1807-66; Joseph Henry Leeson, 5th Earl of Milltown, 1866-71; Edward Nugent Leeson, 6th Earl of Milltown, 1871-90. Edmund Turton, 1914-29. Captain Denis Bowes Daly, 1931-52. Sir Alfred Beit, 1952-94.
Current Ownership Type: Charity / Nonprofit
Primary Current Ownership Use: Visitor Attraction
Ownership Details: Owned by The Alfred Beit Foundation.