Saturday 28 January – Sunday 19 March 2017

Featuring outstanding artworks from The Bowes Museum’s extensive permanent collection, The Allure of Napoleon offers an opportunity to learn more about the Museum founders’ (John and Joséphine Bowes) interest in the Emperor and the age he defined.

The show, which opens on Saturday 28 January, charts the emergence of the Napoleonic cult through paintings, prints, books and sculptures, and explores the fascination he generated on both sides of the Channel. It also kickstarts a series of exhibitions which celebrate, via the quality of its own collections, The Bowes Museum’s 125th anniversary in 2017.
Mixing the story of Napoleon’s meteoric rise and fall with his impact on the fine and decorative arts, the show is divided into five themes: 

  • The Political Chameleon identifies the phases of Napoleon’s political career, from officer in the revolutionary armies to First Consul and eventually to an imperial crown. Prints, ceramics, sculptures and light-box reproductions of iconic works by Antoine-Jean Gros, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Jacque-Louis David reveal the many guises adopted by Napoleon on the path to power.
  • The Fall of a Titan traces the disintegration of Napoleon’s Empire through a number of rare prints - especially those purchased by John Bowes in Germany. From the disastrous invasion of Russia and the German Wars of Liberation, to imprisonment on Elba and the last-stand at Waterloo, this section traces the ruin of Napoleon’s ambitions. It concludes with a new presentation of the massive painting of Étienne-Jean Delécluze Augustus and Cinna, which was exhibited in 1814 and used Roman history to reflect upon treachery against the Emperor.
  • Luxury Reborn explores the impact of the First Empire in revamping a taste for luxury in the decorative arts. The Bowes Museum’s rich collection of porcelain, clocks, jewellery, textiles and miniatures offers an excellent showcase for the evolution of style in this period.  Charles Percier’s design captures the splendour of a Napoleonic throne-room, while Louis Gauffier’s portrait sketches give a snapshot of fashion at the dawn of the nineteenth century. This section highlights the key role played by elite women as hostesses and patrons of taste.
  • A New Dynasty includes portraits and busts of the wider Napoleonic family, highlighting the complex emotional relationships between Napoleon, his mother, his siblings and his stepson Eugène de Beauharnais. In particular, The Bowes Museum has a fine collection of portraits by Flemish painter Franciscus Kinsoen of the Bonaparte dynasty.
  • A final section, The Napoleonic Legend, explores the attempt to revive the memory of Napoleon long after his death on St Helena in 1821. This includes nostalgic depictions of the soldiers of the Grande Armée, popular illustrated editions of his memoirs, and the recycling of Napoleonic motifs to legitimize the authoritarian regime created by his nephew in 1852, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte.  Living in Paris during the 1850s and 1860s, John and Joséphine Bowes appreciated that the story of Napoleon belonged not just to the past but to the present. 

The Allure of Napoleon explores the fascination that Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) exerted on his subjects, and on his later foreign admirers, including John Bowes.   The founders’ collection contains an exceptional range of artefacts relating to the First Empire, including portraits, prints, sculptural busts, furniture, porcelain, miniatures, books and autographs. These will be used in the show to document the rise and fall of Napoleon, from Corsican soldier to First Consul of France, from Emperor of Europe to exile in St Helena, and the glamour and fragility of the regime he created.

The exhibition will be complemented with period-display decoration, along with animated films, to bring this remarkable story to life. A series of talks will run throughout its duration, in which leading historians probe the iconography and legacies of Napoleon, and there will also be a workshop and recital of Napoleonic-era music. Gallery trails will also be employed to identify other key Napoleonic items in the Museum’s collection, such as the Anne-Louis Girodet portrait of the Emperor in coronation robes.

A catalogue of essays exploring aspects of the exhibition and the Bowes’ collection will be available for purchase.


Notes to editors:

·         The Bowes Museum was created over 100 years ago by an extraordinary couple, John and Joséphine Bowes.  Together they built up the greatest private collection of fine and decorative arts in the North of England and constructed a magnificent building to house them in.  The collection contains thousands of objects including furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and many other items covering an extensive range of European styles and periods. 

·         The Bowes Museum receives a core funding grant from Durham County Council and as a Major Portfolio Museum, receives support from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport through the Arts Council England’s Renaissance programme.  Additional revenue funding specifically for the Museum’s acclaimed exhibition programme is provided by The John Ellerman Foundation and The Friends of The Bowes Museum.

·         The Bowes Museum has recently undergone major redevelopment. This work was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, One NorthEast through the County Durham Economic Partnership, English Heritage, Northern Rock Foundation, The Monument Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, The European Regional Development Fund, DCMS/Wolfson Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund, Designation Challenge Fund, The Shears Foundation, The Richard and Suzanna Tonks Family Fund at County Durham Foundation, Durham County Council, The Friends of The Bowes Museum, The Headley Trust, Sir James Knott Trust, Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust, Fenwick Ltd, Mercers Charitable Foundation, Welton Foundation.

·         Normal admission to the Museum: Adults £10.50, Concessions £9.50, Students £6.00, Six Month Pass £16.00, Carers and children Free (under 16s).  Admission allows access to exhibitions, permanent displays and some events. Admissions are donation inclusive and are eligible for Gift Aid. If you do not wish to make a charitable donation or are not a UK taxpayer admission prices are: Adults £9.25, Concessions £8.50, Six Month Pass £14.00, Children (under 16) and carers free.

·         The Bowes Museum is a member of the Discover Durham partnership of attractions. Our commitment is to promote Durham as an exciting and vibrant group travel destination and to provide the travel trade with a professional and knowledgeable service: hotline number 0191 301 8531,










Categories: News

The Bowes Museum is looking forward to welcoming you on the 17 May

Staff have been busy behind the Museum’s closed doors getting everything ready to welcome visitors back safely.

Café Bowes has undergone a refurbishment and has a new menu waiting to be sampled, the Museum has been deep cleaned, new signage is in place reminding you to adhere to social distancing, hand sanitisation stations have been refilled, the shop has been restocked and staff are being trained ready to greet you back in a safe and timely manner.

North Country Quilts: In Celebration of New Acquisitions is now hanging in the main exhibition gallery ready to wow visitors through to January 2022 and, due to social distancing measures, entry to the display will be by a separate timed exhibition entrance ticket that needs to be booked, at no extra cost, before visiting. Song has also been reinstated in the Music Room so people can enjoy the sound of the instruments. A varied programme of activity is being planned throughout May and June which we hope you will participate in.

Entry to the Museum will be by timed slots and tickets will have to be pre-booked online here or by calling 01833 690606. The Museum will be open from 10.00 to 5.00 daily. Masks will need to be worn throughout the Museum, shop and café, except when eating or where exemptions apply.

We look forward to welcoming you back soon!