Virtual champagne corks popped at The Bowes Museum when celebrating the successful fundraising campaign which saw a  staggering £21,000 raised in just 60 nail-biting days.

The campaign, is part of the growing trend of crowdfunding, which involves pooling individual online pledges made by people keen to offer financial support to projects they have taken a shine to.

The project was led by the Museum’s Digital Communications and Fundraising Officer, Alison Nicholson, using the new crowdfunding platform, Art Happens. The Art Fund were keen for The Bowes Museum to be one of the first museums involved with the crowdfunding platform, following a hugely successful Kickstarter project by the Museum earlier this year to install a Gavin Turk neon on the front of the Museum.

Art Happens was created to help UK museums raise money for new, small-scale, achievable and highly creative projects.  Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, every penny raised will go directly to the projects. The Art Fund will not be charging fees like many other platforms, and the donations will be eligible for Gift Aid. 

The Bowes Museum’s successful digital campaign – which was supported by an internal campaign involving an inspirational video and dynamic countdown in reception - with the help of Rupert McBain, recognised furniture conservator, has allowed the Museum to conserve and sympathetically redisplay a 15th century Passion Altarpiece, revealing the hidden secrets on its reverse. It is made up of six paintings by Master of the View of Saint Gudule on the back of the shutters. These oil on panel paintings from c.1480 have been hidden from view for years. Paintings by this 15th century Flemish artist are rare in the UK, and their revelation would give the public a much greater appreciation of the work of this Renaissance artist. The re-display includes building a new oak frame, with a mechanism to regularly open and close the panels to give access currently restricted to the public.

The re-display of the altarpiece includes further research into how the piece would have originally been displayed, who may have commissioned it, the human story of those who created it, and why our founders considered it an important addition to their collection of European fine and decorative art. The hidden secrets of this magnificent piece of Renaissance art will be re-discovered through the generosity of Art Happens and made secure for fine and Renaissance art lovers for the future.

The re-display will include the incorporation of figures carved by the renowned Brussels Sculptors’ Guild which have been in store at the Museum since the capital redevelopments. These will be re-united with the carvings in the altarpiece. Missing pillars which would have linked the intricate canopies to the carvings expressing the arrest, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ will be carved and replaced, enhancing the re-display. The altarpiece will be raised and displayed on a stand, in our 15th century picture gallery alongside paintings from our religious art collection, to recreate the impression of its original position in a church above the altar.

On the reverse of the oak carvings are three mallet marks, the hallmark of the Brussels Sculptors’ Guild. We would like to be able to create an opportunity for part of the carvings to be slid forward to reveal the mallet mark to the visitors, giving a ‘secret’ insight into the authentication of the altarpiece by a 15th tradesman’ guild.

Interpretation of the redisplayed altarpiece will include, along with enhanced panels of information about the provenance of the piece, its acquisition by our founders John and Joséphine Bowes in 1859 and the identity of the artist of the energetic paintings telling the story of the Passion of Christ, a newly carved replica from part of the altarpiece in oak for visitors to feel the texture and intricacies of the skilled workmanship which has carried on through the centuries.

Restorer Rupert McBain, who holds a guild mark from the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, designed a limited edition reward, inspired by the altarpiece, for those who pledged £100 to the campaign. He will now work on the conservation of the altarpiece, building a new frame to allow the Museum to reveal the Renaissance art on the reverse and reveal the mallet marks, the guild mark of the Brussel Sculptors’ Guild.

Alan Suddes, from Rupert McBain Furniture, is currently busy carving a replica wooden figure as a handling object for visitors in the gallery. Watch this space for more information soon.