Established in 2002, the National Gallery of Ireland’s Centre for the Study of Irish Art was opened to the public on the 18th June 2003. Over the past decade, it has firmly established its role in promoting and supporting the study of Irish art. Its library and archive collections are now an essential resource for anyone interested in the history of visual art in this country.
The CSIA is one element of the Gallery’s Library and Archives department, which holds a rich assortment of published and archival material relating to the history of western art. These vast collections, available to the public in the Gallery’s reading rooms, originate from a modest compilation of books that began in the 19th century for use by staff. This expanded and became the natural location to deposit other types of research material, which the Gallery amassed from various sources over the course of its history. During the 1960s, the study and research of art history in Ireland increased in popularity, particularly with the launch of the art history courses in both Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. This did much to highlight the value of research material associated with art history and in 1968, facilitated by the expansion of the Gallery building, a reading room was opened in the basement of the Gallery’s new extension.
The library quickly developed in size and, over the years, individual collections containing various types of material emerged. In particular, a collection relating to the visual arts in Ireland began to take shape. This formed the nucleus of an Irish art archive, one that would eventually develop as an autonomous collection.
In the early 1990s, as part of the planning process for the Millennium Wing, the provision for a specialised research facility to support the study of Irish art was included in the Gallery’s programme for the expansion of services. When the new wing was completed in 2002, it included accommodation for the CSIA which, with the sponsorship of the ESB, opened in the following year.
Over the past ten years, the CSIA has developed a wide-ranging collection. This has been achieved most significantly through the generous donation of material from individuals and bodies who are concerned with the future care and use of archival collections. Donations to the CSIA have come from various sources including historians, scholars, descendants of artists and their family members, or directly from the artists themselves. To date, much of this material has been used by a broad range of researchers and historians to enrich our understanding of the development of the visual arts in this country.
To date much of the collection remains unexplored, and the CSIA is continually seeking new and innovative ways to enhance access and promote its collectionsholdings. Following in the footsteps of the celebrated national art archives of Europe and America, there is great scope in the coming years to expand the CSIA collection and services, and to progress its role in preserving and providing access to research material for the future study and interpretation of Irish art.