Auckland Castle and Bowes Museum 7 October

Posted on Sunday 11th October 2015

Yves Saint Laurent - Homage to Piet Mondrian (1965)

Auckland Castle and Bowes Museum 7th October

Our visit was jointly organised by the LAF and FUAM and began well enough albeit in torrential rain. However, soon after Boroughbridge the A1 was closed due to flooding so we had a very slow diversion through Northallerton and other towns, eventually arriving at Auckland Castle an hour and a half late ! No matter, we were greeted warmly and given a tour of this remarkable complex: part castle, part palace, part administrative offices, part art gallery, and now part visitor attraction and the catalyst for a cultural and economic revival. We sat in Bishop Cosin’s stalls in the chapel to hear the story of the building while Bill Viola’s video installation on the theme of martyrdom played above the altar. Upstairs in the throne room was possibly the biggest assemblage of episcopal portraits over 400 years to be seen in a single location. In the splendidly evocative 18th century Gothic spaces were a number of extremely fine baroque religious paintings on loan from a private collection. But the piece de resistance was undoubtedly the Long Dining Room where Zurbaran’s 12 Sons of Jacob have been hanging for 250 years. The group was intended to be seen as part of an ecumenical assemblage uniting Judaism with Christianity: above the doors are heads of the Four Evangelists, and originally Bloemart’s Four Doctors of the Church hung above the chimney (sold in 1972 and 2010, now in the Catherijnmuseum, Utrecht). This whole enterprise is thanks to Jonathan Ruffer’ s supremely generous gesture in first buying the Zurbarans, and then the Castle, and now overseeing the complete its complete transformation to become a museum and future exhibition venue. We also spied the current work in progress at the new Centre for Hispanic Art in the building adjacent to the Castle.

At the Bowes Museum we were welcomed by Jane Whittaker, Head of Collections. The Yves St Laurent exhibition was highly dramatic – a wonderful range of mannequins dressed with his big numbers from haute couture as well as ready to wear. A number of different themes were juxtaposed with displays from the museum’s own fine historic collections. Videos of the catwalk shows combined with music made for an engaging experience. We also had a chance to admire some of the museum’s collections of fine and decorative art: the paintings redisplayed in 2011, and the ceramics galleries still incomplete but due to be open this winter.