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 closed!

Due to the government announcement on Thursday 17 December, that County Durham is to remain in COVID tier 3 restrictions, The Bowes Museum unfortunately will remain closed to all visitors.

As we have already been shut for a number of weeks and there is much uncertainty around possible further restrictions, we have decided to use this period to undertake some work in Caf� Bowes, alongside performing some much-needed structural repairs to the building, notably to the windows. January and February are usually quieter times for the Museum, often due to severe weather, so we believe that this is the best time to carry out such works with the least amount of disruption to our visitors.

We have therefore decided to remain closed for a period of four weeks following any near-future tier 2 announcement from the government, as this will allow us time to deep clean the Museum prior to reopening our doors once again. We will, of course, keep you updated as the guidelines change.

Your ongoing support during these unprecedented times is hugely appreciated and we very much look forward to welcoming you back into the building as early as possible in 2021.

Do please remember, however, that the Museum�s park and grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 � 4.00 daily, and that we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, clues can be found here.

We hope to be able to offer a few COVID-safe outdoor events over the coming months, about which we shall make further announcements as soon as possible.