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An Unexpected Relationship: Albert Bender and Adolf Mahr

The most surprising relationship to have emerged as a result of the Albert Bender donations was that between Bender and the National Museum of Ireland’s director, Adolf Mahr.

Mahr was an Austrian archaeologist who had been appointed Keeper of the Irish Antiquities Division of the National Museum of Ireland in 1927, eventually becoming Director in 1934.

Mahr was Albert Bender’s main point of contact throughout the period of the Asian art donations, 1931-36. Mahr was, however, until December 1938, Gruppenleiter (group leader) of the Dublin branch of the Nazi party’s Auslandsorganisation (organisation abroad). Considering Albert Bender’s Jewish faith it is remarkable that this series of donations was made under such circumstances.

Irish culture - not Asian!

When Albert Bender decided to donate Asian art to the National Museum in honour of his mother Augusta, Mahr did attempt to explain to him that the Museum’s main collections remit was the preservation and interpretation of Irish material culture, rather than that of Asia.

Mahr suggested that Albert Bender establish instead an ‘Augusta Bender Archaeological Library’ or an ‘Augusta Bender Room’ of archaeological finds, rather than forming an Asian art collection in Dublin. Albert Bender remained determined, however, to proceed with donating Asian art.

Of great interest is the fact that Mahr was instrumental in dictating the types of Asian art donated after the official opening of the Augusta Bender Room in June 1934. He informed Bender of the exhibition’s arrangement and advised as to what kind of additional material would suit, for example, more Japanese prints rather than textiles.

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