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A Dubliner’s Collection of Asian Art: The Albert Bender Exhibition

It has been four years since A Dubliner’s Collection of Asian Art: The Albert Bender Exhibition opened to the public at the National Museum of Ireland. We are delighted to announce that 9 out of the 12 Thangka paintings displayed have now been rotated for the first time since the opening in November 2008. These Thangkas (Buddhist paintings on cotton) which date to the 18th century and are part of the same set, originally made for a Tibetan-Buddhist temple, are amongst the rarest such objects in a Western museum. So much so that even the Louvre attempted to acquire them in the early 1930s.

Albert M. Bender (1866-1941) was born in Dublin, the son of Rabbi Philip Bender. By the time he was an adolescent he had emigrated to San Francisco, California where by the turn of the 20th century he was one of the most successful insurance brokers on the west coast of the United States. Although first attracted to book collecting and modern art, both of which he generously supported, he also became interested in Asian art. In honour of his mother, Augusta Bender, he donated some 260 artefacts of mostly Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan origin to the National Museum of Ireland between 1931 and 1936.

Dr. Audrey Whitty, Curator of Asian Collections at the National Museum said “Although the Museum had collected Asian applied arts from the late 19th/early 20th centuries, this was the first significant donation given to the National Museum during the early years of Irish Independence. This fact was acknowledged at government level by the opening of the ‘Augusta Bender Memorial Room of Far Eastern Art’ by then President of the Executive Council, Eamon De Valera in June 1934”.

The primary aim of the exhibition is to interpret and make accessible to the Irish and international public the most important Asian art collection in the National Museum of Ireland, the Albert Bender collection of Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan-Buddhist art.

Publication catalogue of the exhibition, which interprets the collection and supports the exhibition, was launched by Róisín Ingle, journalist, of The Irish Times in November 2011. Written by Dr. Audrey Whitty, Curator - Ceramics, Glass and Asian Collections, it brings the collection displayed at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks to the widest possible audience.

Commenting on the publication, Dr. Whitty said “this book documents the process of donation and catalogues and discusses the objects Bender gave. In addition, it explores the cultural and collecting backdrop in both Ireland and California against which Albert Bender’s activities may be seen, and assesses the cultural significance of his generosity in the context of Ireland in the post-Independence period”.

The publication is available in bookshops, at the National Museum of Ireland’s gift shop for €35.00.

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