• Title
    Papers of John and Joséphine Bowes
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    John Bowes was born in 1811, the illegitimate son of John Bowes 10th Earl of Strathmore and Mary Milner from Staindrop, County Durham, who worked at Wemmergill, North Yorkshire, one of the Strathmore properties. John was acknowledged by his father who married Mary Milner the day before he died in 1820. In his will the Earl left his English estates to his son. Trustees acting for John Bowes (who was known as John Bowes Bowes) claimed the title of Earl of Strathmore and the Scottish estates but, after a series of Parliamentary investigations and court cases, the title and Scottish estates passed to John's uncle Thomas, although John's interest in the English estates was protected. John received a gentleman's education, attending a private school before going to Eton and then to Trinity College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he met William Makepeace Thackeray and Alexander Kinglake who became his lifelong friends. He also met the future politician William Hutt who married John's mother, the Dowager Countess of Strathmore, in 1831. John was elected as MP for South Durham in December 1832 in the first elections after the passing of the Reform Act and took his seat in the House of Commons in 1833. Neither John nor William Hutt, elected as MP for Hull at the same time, is identified specifically in the painting 'The House of Commons in 1833' by Sir George Hayter (now in the National Portrait Gallery), although Charles Hardy, author of 'John Bowes and The Bowes Museum' (published 1970) made tentative identifications. John served as an MP until 1847 when he decided not to seek re-election. From 1847 John decided to spend much of the year in Paris although he continued to visit England regularly to attend to his affairs. He was responsible for the Strathmore English estates, particularly Streatlam Castle near Barnard Castle and Gibside near Gateshead. The Gibside estate involved him in coalmining (in what later became the company John Bowes and Partners) and he went into partnership with Charles Palmer in shipbuilding, producing the SS John Bowes in 1852. He was a significant racehorse owner and breeder, with West Australian the first horse to win the Triple Crown - winning the St Leger, Derby and 2000 Guineas in the same year (1854). John had been a regular visitor to Paris for some years before making it his home. He appears to have inherited an interest in the theatre from his father and from his grandmother, Mary Eleanor Bowes. In Paris he acquired a financial interest in the Théâtre des Variétés in 1847. The venture was not a financial success and John sold the theatre in 1855. As early as 1847 he had met Joséphine Coffin-Chevallier, an actress at the Variétés under the stagename of Mademoiselle Delorme, who became his mistress. They married in France in 1852 (and in England in 1854). As a wedding present John gave Joséphine the Château du Barry at Louveciennes. For almost a decade Joséphine and John carried out renovation work and interior decorating at the château, mainly under the aegis of the father and son architects Auguste and Jules Pellechet who employed the firm of Monbro et fils aîné for the interior decoration. From 1855 the Bowes rented (and later bought) a town house in Paris at 7 rue de Berlin (now rue de Liège) where they also spent time and money on decoration work. After her marriage Joséphine gave up appearing on stage but developed other interests such as playing the piano, painting and collecting. John had shown an interest in purchasing paintings and objets d'art from at least the 1830s and Joséphine proved to be an enthusiastic collaborator in building up a collection of paintings, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, furniture etc. A Temporary Gallery was established in rue Blomet in the Vaugirard district of Paris to house the growing collection and the dealer Benjamin Gogué was appointed to look after it. In 1860 Joséphine sold the chateau at Louveciennes. The money was used to purchase land in Barnard Castle through John and other intermediaries where a purpose-built museum to house the collection could be built. The foundation stone was laid in 1869 although neither Joséphine nor John lived to see the Museum completed. John and Joséphine had continued the pattern of visiting England regularly although Joséphine's ill-health and fear of the sea meant she often stayed many weeks in Calais or Boulogne while John went ahead. In the autumn of 1869 they travelled to England as usual but the worsening political situation in France followed by the Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune uprising meant that they did not return to Paris for nearly two years. Many of their friends and servants wrote to them during this period providing vivid descripotions and accounts of life in Paris at the time. When John and Joséphine returned, they accelerated the despatch of material from their collection to England for eventual display in the Museum. John and Joséphine travelled extensively in Europe, visiting Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland as well as various parts of France. They bought objects during their travels and through dealers they met while visiting, as well as using a small number of Paris-based dealers. They attended the Paris Exhibition in 1867 and the London Exhibition of 1871, as well as Paris Salons and sales. Joséphine had paintings accepted for display at the Paris Salons of 1867 to 1870, the Royal Academy in London (1868) and Brussels (1871). Joséphine died in 1874, aged 49. Her health had been poor for some years but her plans for the Museum at Barnard Castle show that she expected to outlive John. John was devastated as Joséphine seems to have been the main repository of knowledge about the objects in the collection and their provenance. He employed various members of staff to help with despatching and recording objects but his own ill-health hindered the work. In 1877 he married Alphonsine, Countess de Courten, whom he had known since she was a child, the step-daughter of his friend Hippolyte Lucas. He may have hoped that Alphonsine would help with the Museum work but she does not appear to have been interested. John eventually contemplated a divorce but the case was drawn-out and, in view of his failing health, he settled for a legal separation. John died in 1885, with the Museum building still unfinished and not all the objects having been moved from France. Under his will and that of Joséphine, responsibility for the Museum passed to Trustees. However, John's financial affairs proved tangled and were complicated by dealing with court cases arising from the various legacies in his will which meant that the Trustees did not receive their legacy until 1905. For further information, see John Bowes and The Bowes Museum by Charles Hardy (published 1970) and John & Joséphine: The Creation of the Bowes Museum by Caroline Chapman (published 2010).
  • Language
    English and French
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