A painting by Édouard Manet, judged to be of outstanding cultural importance, was on show at the Museum in April 2013 as part of its national tour.


Manet’s Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, which two years ago was the subject of a temporary export bar after being sold to a foreign buyer for £28.35m, was last year acquired by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, following a successful eight month campaign to raise the £7.83m needed to keep it in the UK.


Under the terms of a private treaty sale, the painting was made available to a British institution for 27% of its market value and is described as the most significant acquisition in the Ashmolean’s history. And this remarkable portrait came to The Bowes Museum directly from exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, on the first leg of a tour of the UK which sees it return to the Ashmolean in 2014.


Manet was one of the greatest painters of the 19th century. During his lifetime he was controversial, but his work, though it shocked the public, was hugely admired by artists. His reputation grew rapidly in the 20th century and consequently his best works were acquired by major museums. There are remarkably few Manets in private collections, almost all in France, and only a handful of important works by the artist in museums in the UK.


Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus is a first version of Le Balcon, now in the Musée D’Orsay, Paris – one of the key images of the Impressionist movement. Said to have been inspired by the sight of people on a balcony in Boulogne, Le Balcon was also influenced by Goya’s Majas on a Balcony.


From the 1860s onwards Manet began to focus his attention on his family and close friends, and the subject of the portrait is Fanny Claus, the closest friend of his wife Suzanne Leenhoff. A concert violinist and member of the first all-women string quartet, Fanny was a member of a close-knit group of friends that also provided the artist with models. She married the artist Pierre Prins, another friend of Manet’s, in 1869, but died from consumption, aged just 30, in 1877.


“This is a rare chance to see the work of the great Impressionist painter Édouard Manet in the North of England,” said Howard Coutts, curator at The Bowes Museum. “Our founder, Joséphine Bowes, was interested in Manet, and lived quite close to him, and I’m sure she would have been pleased to see his work hanging in The Bowes Museum.”


The campaign to keep the painting in the UK received lead support of £5.9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a grant of £850,000 from the Art Fund. The final £1,080,000 was contributed via grants and donations from other trusts, foundations and private individuals.


© Ashmolean Museum, The University of Oxford