Wow! What a year for the Museum. As well as the permanent collections which were admired by thousands of visitors, we have had a year of awe-inspiring temporary exhibitions and displays cleverly curated by Museum staff and visiting curators.
The year began part way through an exhibition of Dutch Landscapes kindly loaned from the Royal Collection by Her Majesty The Queen. With artists such as Aelbert Cuyp, the 17th Century Dutch painters focused on the countryside and the sea to convey a pride in their homeland following the Eighty Years War with Spain. Influences from Italy could be seen in the poetic luminosity and warm tones of the 38 paintings which we had on show until March.
The Fashion & Textile Gallery began the year as host to two beautiful exhibitions. Paquin Winter 1911 celebrated the centenary of an evening gown created by French fashion designer, Madame Paquin, who was credited as being the first female couturier to have founded fashion houses abroad, and Study, Design & Create: The 98 Lace Group featured stunning works of art by some of the country’s greatest makers of contemporary lace, inspired by the Museum’s own internationally significant Blackborne Lace Collection.
At Easter we reflected upon the subject matter of one of our most treasured pieces, El Greco’s moving painting, The Tears of St Peter. Visitors to the Easter display admired the celebrated work alongside some other formerly unseen works by Spanish artists and marble sculptures from the permanent collections. Meanwhile, June Crisfield Chapman’s display of wood engravings delighted visitors with their liveliness of line and ability to express rhythm and character with themes of plant forms and characters from literature and the theatre.
In April, the Museum unveiled a programme of Contemporary Art & Fashion. Six month pass holders were able to return time-and-again to see five contemporary exhibitions spread over the ensuing months. In the Fashion & Textile Gallery visitors were able to take in the wonders of an intricately created wedding dress by Lucile, Fashion Designer & Titanic Survivor, and enthuse over the exuberant creations of international milliner, Stephen Jones: From Georgiana to Boy George whose captivating hats habitually adorn celebrities and royalty.
Elsewhere in the Museum they could explore the turbulent relationship of artists Frieda Kahlo & Diego Rivera in a photographic exhibition, Complicidades highlighting their careers during the time of the Mexican Revolution, or marvel at the bronze sculptures of Sensation Generation’s Keith Coventry, Black Bronze White Slaves, featuring dark themes of urban decay and the decline of society. And for two weeks during the Summer visitors could watch historical costumier, Luca Costigliolo, of BBC2 Victorian and Edwardian Farm fame, recreating a pink dress worn by our founder, Joséphine in her portrait.
And whilst the nation was enjoying unrivalled glory in the London 2012 Olympics, we had our own display of local sporting heroes’ memorabilia and a programme of events including inspirational talks by Rebecca Jenkins, Robert Swan OBE and Graham Ratcliffe MBE, a sport-themed family fun day, kite making and cycle maintenance workshops and a film show. Our Sporting Life was opened by local equestrian and Olympic medal winner, Karen Dixon, and contained medals and trophies, such as the replica of the football World Cup won by West Auckland in 1909/1911, photographs and sports equipment belonging to sportsmen and women from Teesdale and its surrounding area.
After a decidedly damp Summer, with flash floods in Barnard Castle in July leading to a bowling green which looked more like a swimming pool, we were blessed with glorious sunshine and balmy temperatures for the Park Opening on Sunday 2nd September. David Bellamy did the honours of opening our park redevelopments by cutting a hand woven vine made by the Friends of The Bowes Museum suspended between two hand-carved totem poles leading to the new children’s playground. Following Pimms in the grounds, and bird-themed children’s craft activities, visitors were wowed by Ben Potter’s birds of prey on the parterre gardens at the front of the Museum.
Autumn began in a flurry of colour, feasting and celebration of all things foodie! Following an interesting display of local artists’ work promoting Teesdale Open Studios, and an exhibition of varied works by local artist, Linda Birch, illustrator of Bagpuss and Simon and The Witch, came Feast Your Eyes: The Fashion of Food in Art.
Celebrating the representation of food over the past five centuries, Feast your Eyes explored fashions in food and drink throughout Europe from the 16th to the 21st Century. As well as a recreation of a Victorian Supper from a watercolour kindly loaned by Lord Salisbury of Hatfield House by food historian Ivan Day, and four 3D maquettes created by Philip Haas after Arcimboldo’s Four Seasons, the exhibition was a riot of colour and exuberance with paintings from our own collection as well as loans from the Tate, Goldsmiths Company and the Laing, to name but a few. To accompany the exhibition, The Bowes Museum Cookbook was published with recipes created by our award-winning Café Bowes Chef, Ben and Rosemary Shrager, of recent I’m a Celebrity fame, opened the exhibition with great gusto.
A display of Charles Dickens memorabilia, complete with replica house, has run all year in The Streatlam Galleries, celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of Dicken’s birth in February, and Northumbria University’s Fashion Marketing Students have displayed their work celebrating the Titanic Legacy in the Fashion & Textiles Gallery throughout December.
As if that was not enough to entice visitors, 2012 has seen lots of events, from seasonal outdoor markets, to family fun days and children’s workshops, an antiques fair, gallery talks, daffodil planting, opulent weddings, car rallies, a Mexican Fiesta, a tea tasting, outdoor theatre and numerous concerts.
And finally, our beautiful Silver Swan has played, barring a few day’s conservation, every day this year at 2.00pm. The 240 year old automaton has this year been recognised as featuring in Australian Booker Prize winner, Peter Carey’s The Chemistry of Tears, about a clock expert who is given an automaton to restore while dealing with the loss of her lover. The heroine is as bewitched by the Silver Swan as visitors are today.
The Bowes Museum would like to thank all those who have visited in 2012. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and hope to see you in 2013!
By Alison Nicholson, Digital Communications Officer
An article about our Silver Swan appeared recently in The Wall Street Journal, written by freelance writer Richard Holledge, Magic Wrought by a Merlin:
The BBC’s Meet the Author with Peter Carey, describes his storyline and the inclusion of an automaton in The Chemistry of Tears: