Beit, Sir Alfred Lane (1903–94), art collector and patron, was born 19 January 1903 in London, younger son of Sir Otto Beit (1865–1930), industrialist of German birth, and his wife Lillian (d. 1946), daughter of T. L. Carter of New Orleans. Otto Beit inherited in 1906 the considerable fortune that his brother Alfred had amassed from diamond mines in South Africa. Having settled in London in 1888, he became noted for his philanthropy, for which he was awarded a knighthood in 1920 and a baronetcy in 1924. Alfred was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. When aged only 28 he entered the house of commons as a conservative MP for St Pancras, a seat he held till the general election of 1945. During the second world war he served as a squadron leader in the RAF. From 1944 to 1945 he was secretary of state for the colonies. Having lost his commons seat in 1945, he left England for South Africa, where he lived at Wynberg near Cape Town. From this time he concentrated his energies on the Beit Trust, which had been set up to foster scientific and medical research.
On the death of his father (1930) he became second baronet and inherited the bulk of his father's art collection, one of the great private collections of its time. In 1952 he bought Russborough House at Blessington, Co. Wicklow, a country house in the Palladian style, which, after its restoration, housed the Beit collection. From there, nineteen paintings were stolen in 1974, and were later recovered. However, in 1986 thieves struck again, this time taking eighteen canvases, which included one of only two Vermeers in private hands. Eventually, all of these works were recovered. In 1986 the Vermeer formed part of a donation of seventeen paintings made by Sir Alfred to the NGI. The gift also included notable masterpieces by artists such as Goya, Velazquez, and Jacob van Ruisdael, making it an addition of enormous importance to the gallery's collection.
Sir Alfred served on the board of governors of the NGI and acted as president of the Wexford Opera Festival as well as being involved with the Friends of the National Collections. He also supported the arts through the Alfred Beit Foundation. He received honorary LLDs from the NUI (1979) and Dublin University (1993). He married (1939) Clementine Mitford, daughter of Maj. the Hon. Clement Mitford and Lady Helen Mitford (née Nutting). In 1993 Sir Alfred and Lady Beit (d. 2005) were made honorary Irish citizens. He died 12 May 1994 at Mount Carmel hospital, Dublin.