Hugh Percy Lane was born in County Cork in 1875 and brought up in Cornwall. In his mid-teens he was apprenticed to a Mrs Hopkins in Plymouth to learn the techniques of restoring and cleaning paintings. Through the introduction of his aunt, Lady Gregory, he entered the London picture dealers Colnaghi in 1893, and then moved on to work at the Marlborough Galleries. In 1898 he set himself up as a dealer in Pall Mall, and became very successful.
In 1900 Lane met W.B. Yeats and other leaders of the Irish literary revival at Lady Gregory's house, who inspired him to foster the development of modern art in Ireland. In 1902 he organised the Old Masters exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, and in 1903 an influential show of modern Irish art at the Guildhall Library, London.
In 1908 Lane founded a municipal gallery of modern art in Dublin. The gallery contained work donated by contemporary Irish artists as well as works bought by Lane, including many Impressionist pictures. Lane was to become the foremost Irish collector of Impressionist paintings, and he lent many works from his collection to the new gallery, promising to donate them if the council provided permanent accommodation for the gallery. However, Lane's frustration at the delays in developing a new building led him to bequeath his 39 continental paintings to the National Gallery.
In 1915, Lane added a codicil to his will stating that despite the accommodation problems he wanted to leave his paintings to Dublin. The codicil was not witnessed at the time of Lane's untimely death on the Lusitania in May 1915 and thus the pictures came to the National Gallery despite the protests of Dublin. In 1959 an agreement was reached that the Lane pictures should circulate between London and Dublin.