The Bowes Museum > Friends > Acquisitions


One way in which the Friends of The Bowes Museum can help and support the Museum is with financial assistance for projects such as acquisitions, conservation, publishing and the purchase of essential equipment for display.

The Friends’ Short Notice Acquisitions Fund

With a generous donation from an individual member of the Friends and matched funding from the Friends’ organisation, the Director of The Bowes Museum normally has a special, short-notice fund to act as an immediate source of income for acquisitions.

Initial funding of £10,000 was provided by a member, who wishes to remain anonymous, and an equal amount was given by the Friends to establish this fund. The intention is to enable the Director to purchase an item for the Museum Collections without the delay necessitated by contacting all the members of the Committee individually or waiting for the next meeting of the Executive Committee.

The fund had until lately been empty, having had to be used at the last moment for the acquisition of the Lowther Casket, an export-stopped item of such importance that special efforts were deemed justifiable to secure it. Happily, the fund has recently been restored by another most generous gift, but there will inevitably be an ongoing need to keep topping it up from time to time.  

Any further donations towards this fund, or for the purpose of supporting acquisitions in general, will always therefore be most gratefully received.

This fund does not, of course, preclude the Director from seeking further and additional funding from the Friends’ organisation on a non-short-notice basis. 

Acquisition History

The Friends' first acquisition, made in 1959, was the magnificent chandelier, bought for the princely sum of £400, which still draws the eyes of visitors as they enter the Museum. TIn the picture galleries, the two beautiful Canaletto paintings, displayed on loan from 1972, were purchased with the help of the Friends in 1982. In subsequent years, other paintings have been acquired with their help, including watercolours by Turner and paintings depicting race horses owned by John Bowes. The most recent of these was the painting of Daniel O’Rourke, winner of the Epsom Derby in the 1850s, bought at auction in 2011 for £18,000 thanks to some grant funding and the support of the Friends.

Other collections have also been added over the years, sometimes through the purchase of large collections, like the Enid Goldblatt porcelain collection and library in 1985, or more recently a Sèvres saucer, purchased at auction and reunited with its matching cup, which had already been on display in the Museum for many decades. Sculptures, bronzes, items of furniture and many more acquisitions have been made with the Friends' support. 

Some Recent Acquisitions obtained with help from the Friends

To mark the 60th Anniversary of the Friends in 2010, an Art Deco stained glass panel by the Ecole de Nancy artist Jacques Gruber was purchased at auction and cleaned, restored and displayed in a purpose-built wooden case. It stands on the second floor as a beautiful reminder of the support the Friends have given to the Museum through the last 60 years and which they aim to continue giving in the years to come.

As well as helping with acquisitions, the Friends have also supported renovations and improvements to the building, such as the refurbishment of the main gates, the development of the Streatlam Gallery, and not least the award winning Fashion and Textiles Gallery which now draws admiring visitors from all over the world. The acquisition of three exquisite dresses by the Parisian couturier Madeleine Vionnet was made possible by the Friends' support of The Bowes Museum’s purchase in conjunction with the V & A and the Fashion Museum, Bath, between them saving a total of nine items from export. Individual exhibitions receive the support of the Friends, for instance the very popular exhibition of shoes by Vivienne Westwood.

A thrilling new treasure for the Museum, the so-called Lowther Casket, a beautiful box made from Chinese porcelain held in place by elaborate European ormolu mounts, was saved from export in 2013 at the eleventh hour, the final sum being donated by the Friends.

Meanwhile, in keeping with their aims to support education, the Friends have developed close links with the Education department, housed in the refurbished vaults. The Friends support their special events and exhibitions, such as the Egyptian event in the Summer of 2011, which saw more than 1,000 children enter the Egyptian Trail competition.

Work on the repair and conservation of individual items also receives the Friends’ support; this lately included the restoration of two keyboards from the 18th and 19th centuries which are now not only displayed, but also on occasion played at Friends’ Music Group concerts in the magnificent surroundings of the Music Room. Finally, what would The Bowes Museum be without its famous Silver Swan, which was recently fully restored in public view in a special glass-fronted workshop, and now proudly welcomes all visitors to the main picture galleries? 

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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.