I visited this Museum in Barnard Castle in County Durham for the first time this weekend after discovering it through social media. What a unique and fantastic venue. The building stands out in the market town of County Durham as it is built in the style of a French Chateau! Helpful staff show you how to access the building and we started with a background to the Museum and its creators. Appropriate for Valentine’s weekend, this is a story of the love of a couple and their combined love of the arts and collecting. The Museum was built by them with the intention of housing their collection for the public to visit. A very philanthropic project.
The art within the building is outstanding and some of my favourites included El Greco’s The Tears of St Peter; a classic blustery Boudin called Beach Scene at Low Tide; the portrait of Olive Boteler Porter which was recently discovered to be a genuine van Dyck panting; and a small atmospheric Goya titled Interior of a Prison. The breadth of work is impressive, collected during John and Josephine’s time in Paris, and you gain a real understanding of the way in which French art evolved to become to be a dominant force. Although many of the art works are hung very high on the walls of the galleries, there are labels with images for each painting which means you don’t miss a thing. As well as art there are galleries housing silver and metals, archaeological objects, toys, ceramics, furniture and textiles. I really liked the recreations of the rooms as dining rooms, bedrooms and sitting rooms with the most fantastic items of French furniture. Their fashion and textile collections are world renowned which his why you will find so many fashion exhibitions are held there. Having supported their crowd funding project to restore their fifteenth century altarpiece I can now keep up to date with its progress on their blog.
As well as the main gallery spaces there are several temporary exhibition spaces. These currently include the Birds of Paradise: Plumes and Feathers in Fashion exhibition which showcases breath-taking haute couture gowns including an amazing outfit by Thierry Mugler which greets you as you enter. Another exhibition was Confected, Borrowed and Blue where artist Paul Scott has decorated familiar crockery and dinner ware with contemporary stories which include the Cockle Pickers Tea Service alongside plates with images of Gaza. You will also see work by Julian Opie scattered around the building including a walking woman who doesn’t seem to get very far and his cheeky version of the Manneken Pis as you enter! It is well worth the entry fee as you can spend the whole day here, stopping for lunch or afternoon tea in the café. With an Yves Saint Laurent exhibition arriving in July this Museum is a must for fashionistas as well as art and museum lovers. I definitely intend to return soon.