- Free entry with National Art Pass.
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Designed in the manner of a French chateau, the imposing, purpose-built Bowes Museum is an homage to the personal history and tastes of its founders - John and Josephine Bowes.
Bowes Museum, County Durham
Described by Pevsner as 'gloriously inappropriate', the unusual building has, however, been widely embraced, not least on account of the treasures housed within. Covering the full gamut of European fine and decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, the museum contains collections of metalwork, textiles, ceramics and costumes. In its period rooms and galleries are paintings by Gainsborough, Fragonard and Courbet, as well the largest collection of Spanish art in Britain, including an El Greco and a Goya.
A new permanent Fashion and Textile gallery allows the museum to showcase its large collection of fashion and textiles. 20th-century haute couture is displayed alongside clothes belonging to Empress Eugenie, consort of Napoleon III, as well as quilts and contemporary textiles.
The fine art galleries extend from the 15th to 19th centuries, expressing the personal taste of Josephine, who was a talented amateur artist with an interest in French contemporary works. John's tastes are at work in the Italian galleries, among the Canalettos and Tiepolos, while the collection of Spanish paintings is unparalleled in Britain for number and diversity.
A French slant pervades the Museum's furniture and ceramic holdings, which include some of the earliest examples of furniture decorated with Sèvres porcelain plaques, as well a large collection of faience and objects from the Royal Sèvres factory.
Art Funded works
The Bowes collection includes three evening dresses by Madeleine Vionnet, 20th-century couturier and 'architect among dressmakers'. Funded in 2009, these gowns offer a window onto the style of their age, and speak of an inter-war world clinging to the comforts of the past.
Considered the finest work of French cabinet-maker Andre-Charles Boulle, a maquetry panel now forms the front of the 'Warwick Cabinet', incorporated in the late 18th century by an English firm. Known to have stood in Warwick Castle, the cabinet was rescued from export to America.
The formal parterre gardens surrounding the museum were designed in sympathy with its French architecture. Terraces and fountains eventually give way to parkland, offering a variety of walks and places to picnic.
With Teesdale Chef of the Year Ben Parnaby in its kitchen, Café Bowes is rather more than a museum coffee shop. Famed for its afternoon teas, the Café also offers a rather more substantial four-course lunch menu.