This special display at The Bowes Museum will celebrate England's best-known 18th century actor, David Garrick (1717-1779), to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.   

The Museum recently acquired two outstanding paintings by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810), commissioned by Garrick – deemed by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time – representing the thespian in action.

The Farmer’s Return and Venice Preserv’d were each painted in 1762 for Garrick’s house at The Adelphi, at that time one of London’s most fashionable developments. They portray the actor, who symbolises the high success of 18th-century theatre, acting in both tragedy and comedy, in two successful plays of the time.

Held in the same private collection since the death of Garrick’s widow in 1820 until their arrival at The Bowes Museum, the paintings will be celebrated for the first time.

Garrick’s wealth and friendship with Zoffany gave the artist the opportunity to fully develop a specific British genre, ‘painting the theatrical action’, created a few years earlier by Hogarth.  Zoffany made at least six paintings of Garrick in different plays, designed to be hung in the actor’s dining room in The Adelphi house. Garrick had copies ordered to be offered to friends, and the mezzotints made from these paintings had huge commercial success.

Fintan O'Toole, the biographer of Garrick's successor, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, wrote:

‘The relationship between the actors and the audience had been transformed. Audiences had been put in their place. And we're still in that place. On every occasion we stop talking when the lights go down, we're paying a kind of tribute to Garrick's legacy. . .’

Through paintings, engravings, contemporary mezzotints and theatrical paraphernalia, the display will show how artists depicted the ‘theatrical action’, and how these representations encouraged the emerging phenomenon of ‘celebrity’. It will also make possible a remarkable collaboration with The Georgian Theatre Royal in nearby Richmond (North Yorkshire), which is aimed at helping visitors understand and appreciate theatrical life in the 18th century while illustrating how Yorkshire was the first place for theatre entertainment after London. Built in 1788, it is the UK’s oldest working theatre in its original form. 

Zoffany’s works appear in many prominent collections including the Tate, National Gallery and the Royal Collection as well as The Bowes Museum.

Painting the Theatre: Garrick in Action opens on 8 April 2017 and runs until 9 July 2017. It will be accompanied by a series of Gallery Talks throughout the run.


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 Arts Council England.

·         The Bowes Museum has undergone major redevelopment, 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.

·         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!