The Bowes Museum > Collections > Explore The Collection > Galleries > Decorative Arts > Neo-Classical


This gallery is devoted to the Neo-classical decorative style (1760-1790), which was inspired by early Greek and Roman art and architecture. From excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, a wealth of classical material was rediscovered; architecture, sculpture and objects became design sources and classical ornamentation like swags and festoons were imitated on everything from buildings to teacups. Note the 18th century pilasters, doors and shutters, as well as the Sèvres ‘cabinet’ teacups and saucers.


Writing Table, 1765, Martin Carlin (d.1785) French; Porcelain, tulipwood

This is the earliest of eleven writing tables made to the same design between 1765 and 1774. One of the same design was bought in 1770 by Madame du Barry (1743 – 1793); the last Mistress of Louis XV of France, her bust can be seen in this room. In 1852, John Bowes bought Château du Barry, the country home of Mme du Barry, as a wedding present for Josephine. Mme du Barry had previously furnished her Château 
in the newly-fashionable Neo-classical style of the 1770s. Veneered in tulipwood on oak and mounted with Sevres porcelain and gilt bronze, one plaque carries the Sevres date letter and the decorator's mark of Antoine-Toussaint Cornaille (working 1755-1800). In French this type of desk is called ‘Bonheur-du-jour’, meaning ‘happiness of the day’; there is no known explanation for this name!.

Suite of Seat Furniture, c.1780  French, giltwood, tapestry

The suite comprises two settees and six armchairs, and dates to around 1780. Known as the Van den Bergh suite after its influential owner Henry Van den Bergh (1857-1937), the richly carved decoration is of very high quality and condition. The tapestry upholstery depicts figurative and animal scenes, with decorative festoons and floral borders on a pink background. Unfortunately the suite is unstamped, but its quality suggests that it must have been produced by an important cabinet maker.

Cabinet for Botanical Specimens, English, c.1780

This cabinet was made for Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore and grandmother of John Bowes, who was a keen amateur botanist and who commissioned William Paterson, the famous botanist, to collect plants for her during his four expeditions to the Cape of Good Hope between 1777 and 1779. The cabinet is veneered in burr elm and kingwood oak, with carved details in boxwood. The oval medallions are carved in imitation of classical cameos, they were at one time thought to show learned botanists but it is now believed they depict figures such as Shakespeare and Milton. A miniature version of this cabinet can be seen in the first of the John and Joséphine galleries.