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John Bowes
circa 1880
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John Bowes, co-founder of The Bowes Museum, was born in 1811. His family owned land in Durham and Yorkshire. Their land in north Durham contained large coal reserves and from the 17th to 19th centuries the family acquired great wealth from mining and transporting coal.

When John married Josephine they lived at the Chateau du Barry, near Paris. They both had a passion for art and began collecting to furnish their homes in France and England. John and Josephine did not have any children and it is speculated that this gap in their lives was the driving force behind the creation of The Bowes Museum.

Following Josephine's initiative, they decided to sell the Chateau du Barry and purchase land in Barnard Castle, near the Bowes’ family estate at Streatlam. Here they built the Museum to house their growing collection of art treasures. John and Josephine’s policy was largely educational; to introduce ordinary people to the wider world of art. Unfortunately neither John nor Josephine lived to see the Museum project completed.

This photograph of John Bowes was probably taken outside Streatlam Castle, the principal residence of the Bowes family until the 19th century. It is one of the last, if not the last photograph taken of John Bowes in the last years of his life. Although we do not know the exact date of the photograph, there is no doubt, judging by his white hair and tired, heavy eyelids, that it is of a very old John Bowes. However, whilst a painter might have drawn attention to the usual signs of aging such as wrinkles on the face and hands, this photograph does not manage to capture such details.

Even though photographs are thought to be capable of showing nothing but the truth, the sitter and photographer can still manipulate the medium to tell things their way. In this photograph for example, is there a reason that John Bowes chose to be photographed at that particular angle, in those particular clothes and in that particular place?

Compare this photograph of John to the painting of him by Jacques Eugene Feyen (1815-1908) about 20 years earlier. What does each of these images tell us about the kind of person John Bowes was? Do you believe one image tells the truth more than the other? Why/why not?
John Bowes comparison
Unknown  John Bowes  circa 1880
Materials and technique: Photograph (reproduction from an original Albumen Print)
Dimensions: 26.7x 16.7cm
The Bowes Museum: B.M.307
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