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The Bowes Museum represents the love story of John & Josephine Bowes and their shared passion for art, collecting and design.
The Museum was purpose-built as a public art gallery for John Bowes, the illegitimate son of John Bowes the 10th Earl of Strathmore, and Kinghorne, and his wife Josephine Benoite, Countess of Montalbo, who both died before it opened in 1892.
It was designed by the French architect Jules Pellechet in a grand French style within landscaped gardens. Building work started with a ceremony on 16th November 1869 when Josephine placed the first stone.
The building is of the French Renaissance style and it is interesting to note that Sir William Bowes, an ancestor of John Bowes in the 15th century was also so impressed by French architecture that he had his castle at Streatlam built in the French style.
By 1876, much of the stonework had been completed, with the windows and main tower left to be completed. You can also see in the photographs that the land only gradually slopes away from the building in stark contrast to the finished building. Many tonnes of material had to be removed to create the twenty feet drop from the main entrance level to gardens below. Ever thrifty in their use of materials, the builders used this to level off other areas of the site to provide flattened formal grounds.
The museum covers nearly an acre and has four storeys with another storey in the mansard roof.
There are over twenty exhibition rooms on two main floors and there is a large hall with imposing granite staircase. The collections cover all aspects of man's handiwork and aesthetic feeling from the most remote times to the 19th century. Some of the finest examples of European art are to be seen and include paintings, porcelain, glass, embroidery, tapestries, ivories, metal-work and furniture. It is indeed a superb collection Some of the paintings are the finest known particularly the St. Peter by El Greco and the Prison Scene by Goya.
The museum also has on display a water colour by Turner and some beautiful pictures by Canaletto.
The paintings are exhibited in three large picture galleries and as decoration in the other rooms. Above the pictures are hung thirty exceptionally fine tapestries dating from the end of the 15th century to the 18th century. In front of the building is a terrace and below this the grounds are, beautifully laid out in formal gardens. There are rose-beds, a large selection of flowering shrubs, a rock garden, herbaceous borders and majestic trees. The bowling green, tennis courts grass and hard, and a putting green give opportunities for recreation in a pleasant setting.
The highlight of any tour at the Bowes, has to be the performance of the Silver Swan. Far from being a static exhibit, the swan is an early example of an automaton and beneath the life size silver exterior is a complex mechanical device that controls all the swan's movement, linked to a music box.
Thanks to Panoramic Barnard Castle for the pictures.
Many more pictures of The Bowes Museum at Panoramic Barnard Castle.