The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2016 > English Rose – Feminine Beauty from Van Dyck to Sargent

English Rose – Feminine Beauty from Van Dyck to Sargent

14 May - 25 September 2016

The concept of the ‘English Rose’ was celebrated in this major exhibition.  The catalyst for The English Rose – Feminine Beauty from Van Dyck to Sargent - a salute to 400 years of society beauties - was a portrait acquired by the Museum via Arts Council England, in lieu of inheritance tax from the estate of the Duke of Northumberland. 

Olivia, Mrs Endymion Porter, by court painter Van Dyck, was painted c1637, when the artist was at the height of his career. One of his finest female portraits, it depicts Mrs Porter, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria (whose portrait also features in the show) in loose undress and pearls displaying the ‘careless romance’ that is evident in many of Van Dyck’s images.

Whilst this is an intimate domestic portrait commissioned by her husband, it also demonstrates his wealth, status and prestige by the fact that he could afford to engage the King’s painter. 

The exhibition’s themes centered on the artists represented, their sitters and fashions, and followed a chronological order from the 17th to the 20th Century. Alongside The Bowes Museum’s two Van Dyck’s featured paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, George Romney, John Singer Sargent and Peter Lely, loaned from galleries around the UK including the National Gallery; the V&A Museum, London; Dulwich Picture Gallery; The Holburne Museum, Bath, and the National Galleries of Scotland.  

Many of the sitters were as famous as those engaged to paint them. Mrs Sarah Siddons, the outstanding ‘tragic’ actress of her time, most famous for her dramatic portrayal of Lady MacBeth, reportedly had Gainsborough experiencing difficulties with her nose, leading him to exclaim ‘Confound the nose, there’s no end to it’.

Fascinating beauties Elizabeth and Mary Linley, part of the famous 18th Century musical family known as ‘The Nest of the Nightingales’, also sat for Gainsborough, in the only known painting depicting both sisters together. The former had a colourful life; betrothed to a man of her father’s choice, a duel was fought between him and a then penniless Richard Brinsley Sheridan, soon to become a leading playwright, with Sheridan eventually winning her hand. 

Although the sisters’ extraordinary talents saw them perform privately for royalty and publicly at Covent Garden, both were forbidden to sing in public after marriage.

While female artists were thin on the ground in the 17th Century, Mary Beale is represented in a self portrait, c1675; not unusual in those days, as there were few models to sit for them. Holding an artist’s palette, it depicts a woman determined to challenge society’s intended role for her.

Related Events

English Rose Gallery Talk
16 May, 14 June, 13 July, 11 August, 14 September, 2.15

Join Assistant Curator Bernadette Petti to learn about the women in this exhibition and the artists who depicted them.

English Rose Lecture
17 May, Wine reception 6.00, talk 6.30, £10.00 Adults, £8.00 Friends of The Bowes Museum and Friends of Auckland Castle, £6.00 Students

Join Dr Jeremy Wood of Nottingham University for the first in this series of evening talks to celebrate and explore paintings in this exhibition. Dr Wood will speak about Ownership & Display; Van Dyck’s portrait of Mrs Porter and the gallery of ‘beauties’. Booking required.

It’s Me!
2 & 3 June, 10.30 - 4.00

Explore this exhibition with a children’s trail before creating your own self portrait to take home in this drop in workshop. Children must be accompanied by an adult, for whom normal admission applies.

English Rose Lecture
27 June, Wine reception 6.00, talk 6.30, £10.00 Adults, £8.00 Friends of The Bowes Museum and Friends of Auckland Castle, £6.00 Students

Join Dr Veronique Gerard Powell of the Sorbonne for the second in this series of evening talks to celebrate and explore paintings in this exhibition. Dr Powell will explore the beautiful women in Victorian painting from Rossetti to Sargent. Booking required.

English Rose Lecture
11 July, Wine reception 6.00, talk 6.30, £10.00 Adults, £8.00 Friends of The Bowes Museum and Friends of Auckland Castle, £6.00
Students Join Dr Gill Perry, Open University, for the third in this series of evening talks to celebrate and explore paintings in this exhibition. Dr Perry will speak about Actress Portraits and Celebrity Culture. Booking required.

Van Dyck & Lace Lecture
12 August, 11.00, FREE to Friends of The Bowes Museum, Normal museum admission applies to guests.
A special lecture by Frieda Sorber, Curator of the Fashion Museum Antwerp, MOMU, discussing the long-lasting influence of Van Dyck on fashion and lace.

Van Dyck was a painter of portraits that transcend costume as fashion. For a museum curator dabbling into the realities of costumes, in as far as that is possible for anybody living over 300 years after the facts, his portraits are not the most promising material.  Many painters with a less formidable reputation like Cornelis De Vos et al. give a much more faithful reproduction of the changes of fashion and the materiality of silks, embroidery and lace. And that is precisely why Van Dyck left an enduring vision of his concept of 17th century style and costumes and all those others did not. For the non costume historian “real portraits” look quaint,  charming or slightly or extremely silly as far as their sitters attitudes and attire is concerned.

The talk focuses on first the fashions of the first half of the 17th century viewed through portraits and preserved costumes and accessories, then on Van Dyck and his way of portraying  royalty, then on the influence of his portraits and those of his many followers on lace and costume in the 18th through the early 20th centuries. Booking required.

Romantic Roses – Silk Flower Corsages
17 September, 10.00 - 4.30, £79.00 Adults £76.00 Friends of The Bowes Museum, inc light lunch and museum admission
Join milliner Claire Spooner for a fun & relaxed workshop, using silk & traditional techniques to make two beautiful flower corsages. Enjoy a creative day which includes a light lunch & entrance to this exhibition, with a guided tour of the hats featured. Booking required.

English Rose Lecture
21 September, Wine reception 6.00, talk 6.30, £10.00 Adults, £8.00 Friends of The Bowes Museum and Friends of Auckland Castle, £6.00 Students

Join Anna Reynolds, Curator of Paintings at the Royal Collection Trust, for the final in this series of evening talks to celebrate and explore paintings in this exhibition. Ms Reynolds will speak on the topic of Fashion & Art. Booking required.

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.