11 October - 1 February 2015
An exhibition curated by Spanish art specialist Veronique Powell, former Chief Curator and senior lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris, celebrated the conservation of an important painting not seen publicly for over half a century.
The Last Communion of Saint Raymond Nonnatus formed the centrepiece of the show, which included significant loans from the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the National Gallery in London. The exhibition investigated the painting’s creator, Francisco Pacheco (1564-1654) and the Sevillian School of painting, exploring his role as the master of the second generation of painters in Seville during that period.
The painting is one of six executed by Pacheco for the Merced Calzada Convent in Seville, now the Museo de Bellas Artes. It is a work of great significance to the history of Spanish painting, an area in which The Bowes Museum excels; its collection boasts 76 works by Spanish artists, making it the finest venue in the UK to explore the genre after the National Gallery.
Pacheco was author of a critical treatise on the theories and practises of painting, Arte de la Pintura, which was fundamental to the development of Spanish Baroque painting. He was an important figure, both in the scope of his interests and teachings and as master and father-in-law of Diego Velázquez. The painting follows the techniques of his treatise, with chemical analysis proving that the ground colour came from silt from the Guadaquivir River which flows through Seville.
It was donated to The Bowes Museum in 1964 in memory of Tony Ellis, the Museum’s former Deputy Director, and after, following a lengthy period of restoration, it took star billing in the exhibition.
“It was in storage from the 1960s to the 1990s, but in the early 70s a thick coat of varnish was applied to stabilise the paint; an accepted practice in those days,” said the Museum’s Conservation Manager, Jon Old.
Later, after consulting with other restorers, the Museum’s then paintings’ conservator felt the painting could be successfully restored and he set about cleaning it. Following his untimely death in 2004 various conservators, including Jon, continued the work, while a special relationship with the National Gallery saw it lined and cleaned there before the job of reconstructing the badly worn areas could be tackled back at the Museum.
David Everingham then took up the mantle, eventually going freelance to concentrate on the mammoth project in his Yorkshire studio.
“Those who saw the painting in its previous state will certainly see a massive difference,” said Jon. “It will definitely took pride of place in the exhibition.”
It was shown alongside internationally important paintings including Zurbarán’s Martyrdom of Santiago and Van der Hamen y Leon’s Still Life with Artichokes, Flowers and Glass Vessels from the Museo del Prado. Two equally important works from the National Gallery also featured –Zurbarán’s Saint Francis in Meditation and Juan de Valdes Leal’s The Immaculate Conception with Two Donors.
Running concurrently at Auckland Castle, the permanent Zurbarán collection formed the keystone of an exhibition, which included a cycle of 17th century Sevillian paintings of the Apostles brought to Durham Cathedral in 1753 and rediscovered earlier this year after going missing for 40 years. Also featured was selected works of Spanish art from Ushaw College’s collection which were on show publicly for the first time.