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Bowes Museum

Bowes Museum
Bowes Museum and Gardens, front

The Bowes Museum has a nationally-renowned art collection and is situated in the town of Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England.

The museum contains paintings by El Greco, Francisco Goya, Canaletto, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher, together with a sizable collection of decorative art, ceramics, textiles, tapestries, clocks and costumes, as well as older items from local history. The early works of French glassmaker Émile Gallé were commissioned by Joséphine, wife of the founder John Bowes. A great attraction is the 18th-century Silver Swan automaton, which periodically preens itself, looks round and appears to catch and swallow a fish.


The Bowes Museum was purpose-built as a public art gallery for John Bowes and his wife Joséphine Chevalier, Countess of Montalbo, who both died before it opened in 1892. Bowes was the illegitimate son of John Bowes the 10th Earl of Strathmore, and Kinghorne. It was designed with the collaboration of two architects, the French architect Jules Pellechet and John Edward Watson of Newcastle.[1] The building, in a grand French style within landscaped gardens, an early account described it as "... some 500 feet in length by 50 feet high, and is designed in the French style of the First Empire. Its contents are priceless, consisting of unique Napoleon relics, splendid picture galleries, a collection of old china, not to be matched anywhere else in the world, jewels of incredible beauty and value; and, indeed, a wonderful and rare collection of art objects of every kind."[1]

Among those with less favorable opinions was Nikolaus Pevsner, who considered it to be "... big, bold and incongruous, looking exactly like the town hall of a major provincial town in France. In scale it is just as gloriously inappropriate for the town to which it belongs (and to which it gives some international fame) as in style".[2]

The building was begun in 1869 and was reputed to have cost £100,000 (£10,080,000 as of 2012).[5] Bowes and his wife left an endowment of £125,000 and a total of 800 paintings.[6]

Portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter by Anthony van Dyck before and after restoration. The version on the left was the photograph originally posted to the Your Paintings website.

A major redevelopment of the Bowes Museum began in 2005. To date, improvements have been made to visitor facilities (shop, cafe and toilets); galleries (new Fashion & Textile gallery, Silver gallery and English Interiors gallery); and study/learning facilities. The three art galleries, on the second floor of the museum, we also updated.

The museum hosts an internationally significant programme of exhibitions, recently featuring works by Monet, Raphael, Turner, Sisley, Gallé, William Morris, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

The BBC announced in 2013 that a Portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter was a previously unknown Anthony van Dyck painting. It had been found in the Bowes Museum storeroom by art historian Dr. Bendor Grosvenor who had observed it on-line at the Your Paintings web site.[1] The painting itself was covered in layers of varnish and dirt, and had not been renovated.[1] It was originally thought to be a copy,[2] and valued at between £3,000 to £5,000.[1] Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean Museum, confirmed it was a van Dyck after it had been restored.[2]

Further reading

  • Charles E. Hardy - John Bowes and the Bowes Museum (1970, reprinted 1982) ISBN 0-9508165-0-7
  • Caroline Chapman - John and Josephine: The Creation of The Bowes Museum (2010)


External links

  • Official website
  • Paintings from the Bowes Museum on VADS
  • Information from the 24 Hour Museum
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