Goya’s Prison: The Year of Despair
Goya’s Prison: The Year of Despair

Goya’s Prison: The Year of Despair

23 March – 23 June 2019

The Bowes Museum is giving visitors the chance to see an in depth exhibition focussing on a small but career defining painting created during a turning point in the life of the Spanish painter Goya before a group of the Museum’s key Spanish paintings go on loan to The Meadows Museum in Dallas in September.


Late in 1792 Goya became severely ill and even though he eventually recovered he was left profoundly deaf for the rest of his life.  During a period of recuperation he produced a set of small cabinet paintings on tin plate that were to define the rest of his career.


The Bowes Museum’s Director, Adrian Jenkins, has curated this show which looks specifically at the Museum’s The Interior of a Prison. It is one of these pivotal pieces and explores the story behind the picture created during this monumental moment in Goya’s life.


The work is one which highlights a turning point in the artist’s career.  In 1792 Goya was fed up with his routine of painting cartoons for the Royal Tapestry Factory, which were only seen by the Royal family and not the wider public.


His destiny was decided by fate, when a debilitating illness struck. Sick with terrible noises in his head, severe dizziness, loss of balance and failing eyesight his symptoms remained unidentified although syphilis and meningitis were among the most popular theories.


Now it’s thought that some of the symptoms Goya experienced could have been tinnitus and the Museum has teamed up with the British Tinnitus Association as part of the exhibition.


As such, there will be an area within the exhibition featuring information and an audio visual display about the condition.


Sufferers often hear many different sounds in their ears or head, which range from hissing, buzzing, ringing and even segments of music, which are not from an external source.


Adrian Jenkins, the Museum’s Director, said: “While his illness and subsequent deafness left Goya isolated in an alien world unable to communicate, his works flourished and he went on to create a body of work that represents one of the defining testimonies of humanity in all its complexities.  In his despair and his shift away from the huge official tapestry commissions to smaller and more intimate works he found the freedom of artistic expression that was to define his reputation.”


Goya’s Prison: The Year of Despair will study The Interior of a Prison in detail, with reference to other pictures in the cabinet series.  The display, which will run from 23 March until 23 June, will also include works by Poussin, Tiepolo and Piranesi.


The Bowes Museum is open daily from 10am.  A full programme of events and exhibitions is available by calling 01833 690606 or by viewing the website at www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk


The Bowes Museum grounds are open!

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. However, the grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 - 4.00 daily, and we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, two spring trails and outdoor guided tours are available from 29 March 2021.

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 Café 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.

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.