An exhibition celebrating the conservation of an important painting not seen publicly for over half a century opens at The Bowes Museum next month.
The Last Communion of Saint Raymond Nonnatus forms the centrepiece of the show, Six Masterpieces, which includes significant loans from the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the National Gallery in London. The exhibition investigates 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 now, following a lengthy period of restoration, it will take star billing in the exhibition which opens on Saturday 11th October.
“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 take pride of place in the exhibition.”
The exhibition, curated by Spanish art specialist Veronique Powell, former Chief Curator and senior lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris, runs from Saturday 11th October 2014 until Sunday 1st February 2015.
The exhibitions will coincide with a major three-day conference drawing together top experts in Spanish art. Both are part of a joint collaboration between The Bowes Museum, Auckland Castle and Durham University, backed by the National Gallery and Museo del Prado, aimed at securing the profile of County Durham as an internationally renowned centre for Spanish art. They will be complemented by a series of four public lectures – two at The Bowes Museum and two at Auckland Castle – between November 2014 and February 2015, to broaden the symposium’s audience and further the understanding of Spanish art.