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Public talk - Creating the Bowes Museum

(15 February 2019)

The Friends of Palace Green Library are hosting a talk by Simon Spier, Leeds University, entitled 'Creating the Bowes Museum: Private collecting and the public art museum 1860-1900', on Saturday, 23 February at 2pm in the Learning Centre, Palace Green Library. All are welcome.

Simon’s talk will explore the history of the creation of The Bowes Museum, County Durham, as it transformed from the private collection of John (1811-1885) and Joséphine Bowes (1825-1874) into a public art museum at the close of the nineteenth century. Aspects of this exploration, proceeding chronologically, will address firstly how the Bowes assembled their eclectic collection on the European art market, and the shifting criteria for the objects they chose. Secondly, the rationale behind the imposing neo-Renaissance chateau that now dominates the landscape of Barnard Castle and the story of its construction. Lastly, following the untimely deaths of both founders before the museum’s official opening in 1892, it is interesting to examine the possible way in the museum was intended to be organised. By the 1870s the Bowes had appointed a professional curator for the museum to arrange and display their collection, but ultimately this was left to the curator and a handful of trustees to make the museum a truly ‘public’ institution in the late 1880s. Using archival evidence it is possible to build up a picture of how this fascinating institution changed and shifted in its physical form as well as its overarching role as a house for a private collection, a memorial to the founders and a museum to serve the public.

Simon Spier is a PhD student, based at the University of Leeds Centre for the Study of the Art and Antiques Market (CSAAM). His research is funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership studentship between the University of Leeds and The Bowes Museum, working on a project entitled 'Creating the Bowes Museum: Private collecting, public philanthropy and the art market in the public art museum in Britain and France, 1830-1900'. His general research interests are within the history of collecting and display, the history of public museums and galleries, European decorative arts (particularly 19th-century), and the interrelationship between private collectors, the public museum and the art market.

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