UK’s Bowes Museum Acquires Important 15th-century Netherlandish Painting
Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle in County Durham in North East England has acquired Dieric Bouts’ St. Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, thanks to funding from Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and a number of private donors. The painting, a superb work rich in detail, came from Penrhyn Castle where Edward, Lord Penrhyn originally bought it for about £100. In November 2015, the Government placed a temporary export bar on the painting, and the work was finally secured for £2,290,650.
According to the museum’s press release, the painting is “an outstanding 15th century painting deemed an important British cultural asset” and its acquisition initiates “a partnership with York Art Gallery and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.”
Bouts was born in Haarlem, the Netherlands. According to the National Gallery of Art’s biography:
The date of birth is not known, though circumstantial evidence points to the time between 1415 and 1420. Bouts moved from Haarlem to Louvain and there married a well-to-do citizen, Katharina van der Brugghen; the marriage probably took place by 1447 or 1448, but the first document mentioning Dirck Bouts in Louvain is dated 1457. It has been suggested that Bouts emigrated to Louvain sometime between 1444 and 1448 and, further, that he might have visited Bruges or Antwerp after leaving Haarlem. Wolfgang Schöne and Georges Hulin de Loo, however, believe that Bouts returned to Haarlem after his marriage and remained there until 1456/1457. After the death of his first wife, Bouts remarried in 1472 or 1473. He made his last will and testament on 17 April, and apparently died on 6 May 1475. His two sons, Dirck the Younger and Aelbrecht, were artists. Aelbrecht painted more or less in the style of his father. Dirck the Younger’s style is not known to us.
The Bowes Museum release includes the following about the painting, its acquisition, the participants who made the purchase possible, and when it will be publicly accessible:
The patterned tiles lead the viewer’s eye through the composition, to the colonnade and landscape beyond. The face of St. Luke, which portrays both age and character, displays the key characteristics associated with Bouts’ portraiture. The expensive damask cloth of honour is exquisitely rendered, as are the tiled floor and marble columns. The detailed landscape beyond the colonnade, showing a walled town receding into a mountainous horizon, demonstrates why Bouts is viewed as one of the most important early Netherlandish landscape painters.
The majority of the funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, awarded The Bowes Museum £1.99million.
The Museum will lead on the project and acquire the painting before embarking on an innovative partnership with York Art Gallery and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery to deliver a diverse and exciting activity programme surrounding the painting, across the three venues, with each partner focusing on different aspects of the programme and sharing learning. All three galleries have excellent Old Master collections and the acquisition of this major painting allows each to highlight their holding of early Netherlandish painting while reaching different audiences across the country.
Adrian Jenkins, Director of The Bowes Museum, said: “During the 15th century, Netherlandish paintings were admired all over Europe for their visual sophistication, imagination and invention, and those by Bouts and his workshop were no exception. This work exhibits all of those characteristics and we are extremely pleased to have secured its long term future in the UK with the help of the Art Fund and HLF.”
The painting will also become the focus of a scientific investigation and conservation project, led by staff at the National Gallery, after which it will be displayed at The Bowes Museum before travelling back to the National Gallery for display. It will then spend a longer period at each of the partner galleries and form the basis of exciting activity programmes.
Culture and Digital Minister Matt Hancock said: “It’s fantastic news that this stunning painting will remain in the UK for the public to see. I’m delighted that the export deferral has allowed this outstanding work of art to find a new home at The Bowes Museum.”
Laura Pye, Head of Culture at Bristol City Council, said: “We are thrilled to be welcoming Bouts’ St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child to Bristol in 2018. High profile loans of this nature help us to reinvigorate our galleries and provide our visitors with magnificent new art to enjoy. I’m looking forward to seeing the masterpiece alongside our own excellent Old Masters collection and developing new ways for communities in Bristol to participate in our events programme.”
Laura Turner, Senior Curator of Art and Science at York Museums Trust, said: “We are thrilled that Bouts’ St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Childwill remain in the UK. With such a strong collection of Old Masters at York Art Gallery, we have an affinity with the work and consider it to be of great national importance.
“We look forward to receiving the loan in 2018 and introducing a programme of events at York Art Gallery that will celebrate the acquisition and share more information about the painting with the public.”
The exhibiting of the painting, together with the outcomes of research and the programme of activities, will aim to keep the public fully informed about the artist, the artwork and the context, to engage interest and encourage participation.
At the end of the long-term project the painting will be housed at The Bowes Museum, where it will become part of the permanent collection.
As well as making a significant financial contribution to the acquisition, the Art Fund was able to further support through acting as the purchaser, and then making a gift of the work to The Bowes Museum. This ensured that the work could be purchased without additional tax, meaning that the museum could acquire the work for a significantly reduced price.
“The assistance of the Art Fund in supporting the Bowes in this practical way demonstrates how their support for UK Galleries and Museums goes beyond straightforward financial support,” added Mr Jenkins.
Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, said: “The art historical significance of this unusual subject is considerable; indeed there is nothing like it in any other UK collection. It’s a great coup for The Bowes Museum, and we were happy to help. We are particularly supportive of their plan to show the work at other UK museums, as well as at the Bowes, in the years to come.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “We’re delighted to support this project which will not only save an important cultural asset for the nation, but also enable people across County Durham, York, Bristol, and further afield to explore the story behind the painting and enjoy it for generations to come.”