Online crowd-funding raises £21,000 to save 15th Century altarpeice at The Bowes Museum

Funds boost will enable Barnard Castle treasure house to reveal artwork's secrets for first time


A crowd-funding campaign has seen The Bowes Museum raise £21,000 in the nick to time to conserve a 15th Century altarpiece.

The Barnard Castle treasure house is celebrating its success at hitting a 60 day deadline to drum up enough support for its project which will reveal the full story of a unique Flemish artwork to visitors for the first time.

With just hours to spare, delighted staff hit the target which will finance work on the Passion Altarpiece, part of the original collection of valuable pieces built up over a century ago by the museum’s creators John and Joséphine Bowes.

It’s made up of 12 oil-on-panel paintings and wood carvings but also features Renaissance artworks hidden on its reverse which have never been displayed.

Now that’s all set to change with the help of a restoration expert, says Sheila Dixon of The Bowes.

“We need a specialist to work on it as there are paintings on the back which can’t been seen at the moment,” she said.

“We’d like to be able to show these to the general public and it will be fabulous to have it all on display.

“It’s a stunning piece and the wood carving is beautiful.”

Detail of the 15th Century Passion Altarpiece
Detail of the 15th Century Passion Altarpiece

The trend of crowd-funding is becoming an increasingly popular way of finding extra revenue in cash-strapped times.

The Bowes tried it out through Kickstarter earlier in the year to help it install a Gavin Turk neon on the front of the museum.

It surpassed the £6,000 target and digital communications and fund-raising officer Alison Nicholson did such a good job she was tasked with leading this latest project, the first to use new crowd-funding platform Art Happens supported by national charity The Art Fund, and she said: “It’s been an exhilarating experience.

“The Art Fund has been a brilliant source of help and support.”

As well as the expected art-lovers, members of the public also gave online pledges - every penny of which will go to the project - but Sheila admits everyone was tense leading up to the close of the campaign at midnight on Friday.

“We’d a countdown in reception saying how many days were left and it was a bit fast and furious!” she said.

Restorer Rupert McBain will now begin work on the conservation of the altarpiece which features Master of the View of St Gudule and intricate carvings by the Brussels Sculptors’ Guild in a sequence telling of the arrest, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

The idea is to build a new frame with a swing mechanism to re-display it in the gallery and reveal the art on the reverse as well as the marks of the mallet of the Guild.

Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar said the museum can now return one of the finest pieces in its collection to its former glory.

“I shall be excited to hear how the restoration project on the Passion Altarpiece unfolds, revealing its hidden treasure for all to see, and to enjoy.”


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