The Bowes Museum – May 2019

The Bowes Museum can be found in Teesdale, in the market town of Barnard Castle, and houses a phenominal herd of treasures and art works collected during the lifetime of John and Joséphine Bowes.

Shall we do the History Bit? (Rhetorical question 🙂 )

John Bowes  (19 June 1811 – 9 October 1885) was born in London, to a commoner called Mary Millner. Mary went to work for the 10th Earl of Strathmore & Kinghorne,  (14 April 1769 – 3 July 1820) a Scottish nobleman and peer, at his stately homes in County Durham, and ended up having a long affair with him, living with him as his wife to all intents and purposes. The Earl married Mary on 2 July 1820 but only 16 hours before he died, trying to ensure that his son would inherit his titles and properties. To cut a 5 year long legal story short, there was a bit of a to-do in the courts about this, as Scottish and English inheritance laws differed, and it ended up with the Earls brother Thomas Lyon-Bowes becoming the 11th Earl, and inheriting the Scottish estates.  John was given the Earls English estates of Gibside & Streatlam Castle in the North East, and St.Pauls Walden Bury in Hertfordshire so he didn’t do too bad out of it.

John didn’t mope about not being an Earl though and got on with his life.  Having being educated at Eton he became a very successful businessman and profited muchly (yes that is a word, at least in my world) from having coal reserves on his land.  He also owned a horse stud farm breeding racehorses which was just as successful – the stable had winners in the 2000 Guineas stakes three times, The Derby four times and, in capturing the English Triple Crown with West Australian, won the 1853 St. Leger Stakes.  Between 1832 and 1847  he was a Liberal Party Member of Parliament, for the South Durham constituency and was a reformer in politics, in favour of triennial Parliaments and the removal of Bishops from the House of Lords. On top of all that he was a partner in the Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company at Jarrow, and the first major vessel built was the pioneer iron steam collier “John Bowes”.  From 1847 onwards he travelled between France and England, specialising in artworks. He bought a theatre whilst on one of his French trips, and that’s where he met and fell in love with  Parisian actress Joséphine Coffin-Chevallier.

Joséphine Coffin-Chevallier (1825 – 9 February 1874) was the daughter of a clockmaker. She became an actress in Paris under the stage name Mlle Delorme. She was a vaudeville performer – an actress, comedienne, and singer – in the Théâtre des Variétés during the period when John Bowes purchased and managed the theatre, as well as being a talented amateur artist who studied under the landscape painter Karl Josef Kuwasseg. Her work was exhibited at both the Paris Salon on four occasions in the late 1860s, and once at the Royal Academy, which was an unusual achievement for a woman of the time. Go Jo! Jo and Johns mutual love of the arts brought them together so they tied the knot in 1852 when Jo gave up acting to concentrate on her painting and art collecting. Johns wedding present to her was the former home of one of King Louis XV’s mistresses, the Chateau du Barry. Jo became a noted hostess and patron of the arts on a grand scale, gathering artists, intellectuals and French society together so that her salons were counted as the most brilliant in Paris, and her style in fasion and jewellrey was as celebrated. In 1868 Bowes purchased the title of Countess of Montalbo for his wife, from the nation of San Marino, to elevate her status. Not bad for a clockmakers vaudevillian daughter!

It was Josephines idea to found a museum filled with the already substantial collections of her husband, and her vision was to create a place where the local coal miners and farmers could encounter fine art and improve their lives.  She sold the Chateau to raise funds for the project,  and some of the most valuable of her diamonds to complete it. 

The Bowes commisioned the French architect Jules Pellechet who they’d worked with in France, to design the museum. It was a huge undertaking, nothing like this had been seen in this area beforehand, but their enthusiasm was immeasurable and as the foundation stone was laid, Joséphine was reported to have said to her hubby, ‘I lay the bottom stone, and you, Mr Bowes, will lay the top stone’.   As the building grew, so did their collection and an astounding 15,000 objects were purchased between 1862 and 1874. She collected decorative arts pieces such as ceramics, silverware, and tapestries. She also made extensive purchases from the International Exhibitions held in Paris in 1862, 1867, and in London in 1871. Her purchases of paintings benefited from her friendships with young artists, and she also worked with two Parisian dealers, Mme Lepautre and A. Lamer, who left annotated records of their dealings, which are still held by the museum. She purchased works by artists as diverse as El Greco, Cannaletto, Boucher, Anne Vallayer-Coster, Courbet, and Charles Joshua Chaplin.

It seems so sad that Jo died of lung disease at the age of forty-eight in Paris, but even in her last days was organising new items for the collection at Teesdale. She never saw the building  completed. John lost his motivation for carrying on the collection after she died, but he did marry again, to the rather illustrious sounding Alphonsine Maria St. Amand, divorced wife of the Comte de Courten. That was three year later in 1877, but they never really got it together and by 1885 they were divorced. In that year he died too and never did carry out Joséphine’s wish of laying the top stone. The building continued, in the hands of Trustees ,in the style of a French chateau, but was not to be completed until 1892.

It opened to the public on 10th June 1892 and attracted nearly 63,000 visitors in its first year.

On with the show now…

The Bowes Museum
The formal parterre garden designed by The Bowes
The American novelist Mark Twain saw the Silver Swan at the Paris exhibition in 1867 and described it in his book The Innocents Abroad: ‘I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes – watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as it he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop – watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it…’

The Silver Swan is a musical automaton which over the last century has become the icon of The Bowes Museum. The silver swan dates from 1773 and was first recorded in 1774 as a crowd puller in the Mechanical Museum of James Cox, a London showman and dealer. The internal mechanism is by John Joseph Merlin, a famous inventor of the time.  It was one of the many purchases that the Bowes’ made from Parisian jeweller M. Briquet, with John paying £200 for it in 1872. John and Joséphine first saw the swan at the 1867 Paris International Exhibition where jeweller Harry Emanuel exhibited it.

Produced during WW1 to commemorate some of the renowned political and military figures of that time, such as Lord Kitchener, General Botha and Admiral Jellicoe, the museum has 11 of these displayed near the canteen.

The rooms were filled with stunning artworks and the galleries are organised by dates.

17th 18th Century

wish I’d taken a shot of the two Canalettos which were just amazing to see, so big!

15th-16th century gallery

This next item is a 15th century Flemish altarpiece. It is made up of twelve paintings by Master of the View of Saint Gudule illustrating: The Agony in the Garden (St. Jerome); Christ before Pilate (St Gregory);  The Resurrection (Saint Ambrose) The Risen Christ (Saint Augustine), with God the Father (Saint Anthony) and the Adoration
of the Magi (Family of Zebedee) above. These oil on panel paintings from c.1480 have been hidden from view for years and were in great need of conservation

This little gold mouse is also an automaton, bought by Josephine Bowes in 1871. It’s decorated with seed pearls, with garnets for eyes, the mouse scuttles along, stops, changes direction and scuttles on again.

The ceramics collection is quite extensive

Pair of cats by the French ceramicist Emile Gallé

This next thing is a 2 headed calf born at a farm near High Force, and was exhibited as a freak of nature during the 19th century.

The cafe there is very nice with a good choice of nice things to eat.

Well that’s just a few of the things we saw there, and really we need to go back and see more as they are always rotating bits to show and doing new exhibitions.

The museum has a very informative website HERE
and an interesting blog on wordpress HERE
all photo’s by me and embiggenable with a click.
Full album of this and last weeks Raby Castle visit HERE

stay tooned for a visit to the Stephenson Heritage Railway Museum next time!

31 thoughts on “The Bowes Museum – May 2019

  1. Very interesting history, and a wonderful collection. The mouse is my favourite!

    As I recall, the maiden name of The Queen Mother was Bowes-Lyon. Hang on, I will look it up…
    ‘Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, born Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, mother of Elizabeth II. Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, (1855–1944) was a landowner, and the father of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. John Lyon, Lord of Glamis, (c. 1340–82), was Chamberlain of Scotland between 1377 and 1382.’

    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds like a wonderful museum – nice collections, too. I think the automatons are my faves, especially the mouse. The history is fascinating. I must say i found your saying “born a commoner” rather interesting. Keep ’em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

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