Sunday, 22 January 2017

Mosaic Monday # 24. The Bowes Museum, County Durham.

The Bowes Museum

Last week when I stopped by Daniella's blog " my little old world " I was reminded of a visit that the Senior Partner I made to the Bowes Museum in 2013.
When I checked my blog history I realised that I hadn't ever blogged about our visit despite promising that I would.
The Bowes Museum has an excellent informative website so I thought I'd share some of the many photos that we took on our visit and combine them with this short history from there.
"The Bowes Museum is a hidden treasure, a jewel in the heart of beautiful Teesdale. The magnificent building stands proud in the historic market town of Barnard Castle housing internationally significant collections of fine and decorative arts.  Purpose built in the 19th century by John and Joséphine Bowes, the Museum has a wonderful story to tell.

John, the son of the 10th Earl of Strathmore, was born at No 13 South Street, Chelsea, London. His mother was a commoner, Mary Millner, who caught the Earl's eye when she worked on his Teesdale estate and ended up living with the Earl to all intents as his wife for many years. The Earl married her just 16 hours before his death in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his son’s succession. Two very long court cases ensued, finally settling the Durham estates on John, but not recognising him as the legitimate heir to the Strathmore title.

John was educated at Eton and became a very successful businessman who profited from the coal reserves on his land. From 1847 he spent his time between France and England exploring his interest in the arts. It was here he bought a theatre and met the Parisian actress Joséphine Coffin-Chevallier. 

Joséphine was born in 1825. She was an actress in the Théatre des Variétés, Paris, owned by John Bowes. Joséphine was a talented amateur painter, who shared John’s love of the arts; she was interested in a range of art forms including paintings, ceramics, furniture and textiles. Once the couple married in 1852 they soon began to develop the idea of creating a world-class museum back in John’s ancestral home of Teesdale in order to introduce the wider world of art to the local people.

"Regatta on the Grand Canal"
circa 1730
Giovanni Antonio Canal "Canaletto".
The prospect was daunting; nothing had matched the scale, grandeur or location of this colossal proposal in their lifetime. Plans were meticulously scrutinised and painstakingly formed in order to give the North East a truly magnificent edifice, a home suitably fitting for all the precious treasures which would be contained within it.

l to r
"Portrait of a Lady" c. 1760 - Joshua Reynolds
Tin glazed earthenware jug c. 1872 - Emile Galle
"Olive Boteler Porter" c. 1630 -Sir Antony Van Dyck
The Bowes’ enthusiasm was immeasurable as Joséphine laid the foundation stone in 1869. She said: ‘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.
Suddenly the project was blighted when Joséphine died in 1874. John’s motivation towards their lifelong achievement took an enormous blow and he virtually ceased collecting. Fortunately the building did continue, but John, like his late wife, never saw its completion. He died in 1885 and never did carry out Joséphine’s wish of laying the top stone.

Despite the death of John and Joséphine, momentum for the project had reached such a scale that it continued under the leadership of Trustees and The Bowes Museum was finally opened to the public on 10th June 1892 and attracted nearly 63,000 visitors in its first year.

John and Joséphine ensured that their Museum was filled with treasures; since collecting has continued since the opening, storage and display space comes at a premium. At every turn you can see important and precious works from all over Europe, and each piece has its own story to tell. However, it is the 240 year-old Silver Swan that is the best-loved object in the Museum. The Silver Swan is an English silver automaton, a unique attraction that was bought by the Bowes in 1872. The life size model is still in working order and is operated at the Museum on a daily basis.

The diverse collection spans three floors of the magnificent building and contains items too numerous to list. Whether it is paintings by Canaletto or Goya, porcelain produced at Sèvres, or marquetry attributed to André-Charles Boulle it can all be found at The Bowes Museum, which has received Designated status from the government in recognition of the outstanding collection."

Click here to visit the Bowes Museum website and uncover more treasures collected by John and Joséphine Bowes.


  1. Hi Maggie, the Bowes Museum you shared today along with some of the history of building and collections was a special treat. It must have been wonderful to walk through those beautiful rooms in person.

    Thank you for Mosaic Monday 24, always look forward to visiting, learning something new and joining in.


  2. Amazing! What a very cool and interesting post with such images. Thank you

  3. Dearest Maggie; How GORGEOUS and BEAUTIFUL "the Bowes Museum" is an♡♡♡ Gave me wonderful European atmosphere as well♪ When I was in my 30's I've been to your country and visited 'Palace and Park of Versailles' which was an AWESOME experience for me. Pity it was not a digital age p:-) Great idea to show us your country's treasure from your past days. Such difference form our wooden castles.
    Have a wonderful new week And Thank you so much for your hosting☆☆☆

    Sending Lots of Love and Hugs from Japan to my Dear friend, xoxo Miyako*

  4. What an impressive building and a gorgeous museum. I'm sure it was quite an experience to see all these treasures! Happy Mm Maggie!

  5. wow - impressive looking building and an even more impressive collection!

  6. Hello Maggie
    What a magnificent building - it looks similar to a french chateau I visited.
    No doubt Joséphine's influence.
    I've been to Teeside a few years ago - I'm sorry I didn't know about Bowes at the time.
    A wonderful collection of art.
    Thank you for hosting MM.
    Shane x

  7. Oh gosh, what a wonderful museum!!! I am so glad that you were reminded of your visit and then shared it with us today. So many wonderful things to see, it must have been an incredible feat to collect all of these things and build the museum. I have seen the swan operating on a television programme, it looks incredible and must be even more amazing to see in person even if it isn't in motion. Thank you for hosting us today, this has been a nice way for me to get back blogging again, and I am thankful for that!

  8. Wonderful post Maggie, and thank you for sharing so much historical information. I haven't visited but have seen the swan in action on TV - an amazing invention! Thanks again for hosting ....

    Happy Mosaic Monday - enjoy your week!

  9. An amazing museum with a great wealth of exhibits, Maggie. Thanks for the virtual tour and thanks for hosting.

  10. What an amazing story. I'm glad that their dream was carried on despite their deaths so that history and all they worked for could live on in this beautiful museum. Have a great week.

  11. Wow! The Bowes Museum is a hidden treasure indeed. Love the story, too. Happy Monday and thank you for hosting!

  12. I feel like I've just been on the tour ! You've been a great guide...beautiful place and quite a story. I've never heard of a silver automaton before...quite amazing.

  13. I was inspired to do a gallery mosaic myself! ;-)

  14. I love seeing your photos of this fabulous place...somewhere that I will never see in person. And it's always nice to learn about the history that surrounds it. How amazing! Thanks for MM! Hugs, Diane

  15. Maggie, I'm thrilled you pulled these from your files to share here. The Bowles' story and their amazing property and collection is incredible. The silver swans must be a marvelous sight. I also spied that gorgeous Emile Galle jug. This is a beautiful story of true love, not only for each other as a couple, but for the love of the arts and the desire to share with the people of the land. Thanks again for spotlighting this wonderful museum.

  16. Thanks Maggie for sharing this wonderful museum with us, and giving us a peek at its vast collections. I love visiting museums, always come away with a renewed sense of wonder at things I knew nothing about previously. Happy MM.

  17. The Bowes Museum sounds magnificent. What amazing vision the couple had to create this place for all to enjoy. I can imagine that they had lots of conversation about what pieces to purchase and how to make it all come together. The Silver Swan is an interesting curiosity.
    Thanks for hosting MM. Have a great week.

  18. Dearest Maggie,
    your post about the Bowes Museum is truly stunning, I'm so very glad to have recalled to your mind this visit of yours with my last blog post .. and thank you, furthermore, for mentioning me and my blog in your text !!!

    I'm sorry to haven't any post to share, today,
    but I'm here with much joy for wishing you the best of weeks!

    Xx Dany

  19. Such a joy to see and have this guided tour via pictures at museum!! History is a very important element to me. I enjoyed so much to discover a new place, new historical aspects through your so informative post. Glad you remembered and posted about this edifice with such a large collection of art. What times, what amazing people there were! and what dedication in their idea of founding something so beneficial in cultural signification to us after lots of years.
    Many thanks for sharing these with all of us! and for hosting, too! A very wonderful week ahead! Alexa

  20. Hi Maggie, what a great place to visit. Marvelous photos and I enjoyed its history. Thank you for sharing. I am not entirely back to blogging but hope to be joining in with mosaic Monday soon. Happy New Year!

  21. Wow, what a great story! Looks like a fantastic museum!

  22. Maggie, The red dress is stunning and the silver swan is a marvel. Sylvia D.

  23. I've never heard of this spot of this remarkable couple. How sad they didn't live to see it to completion. It's a beautiful museum (and your photos show it off to the best advantage -- I especially love the stair shot). Thanks for sharing this. I'm not sure I would have heard of it elsewhere.


Thanks for stopping by, your visit just made my day!