Bowes Museum

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Textiles & Dress Collection

"John and Joséphine Bowes were pioneers in the field of textile collecting. They began acquiring 'antique' textiles to furnish their own homes, which led to the formation of one of the largest and most significant European collections in Britain. In buying for the Museum, they chose to represent all textile techniques and all the European centres of production, from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. French tapestries include four from a series telling the story of Dido and Aeneas (French, circa 1650) and five from the story of Psyche (Beauvais, circa 1690), whose borders suggest they were woven for the French Royal Family. These large hangings cannot be continuously placed on open display, as light and dust damage textiles.

There are smaller pieces of tapestry, and a larger collection of needlework seat covers, forming a unique collection of French upholstery textiles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Joséphine Bowes originally collected almost seven hundred examples, some of which were used to re-upholster chairs in their homes. Other types of European embroidery include ecclesiastical examples from fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, seventeenth century English work and embroidery from the East. The Bowes’ also collected carpets, woven textiles and lace.

Later collections represent more regional themes: a large collection of quilts, part of a larger collection of quilted, patchwork and embroidered bedcovers, and flat-woven carpets, with examples from the nineteenth century carpet weaving industry in Barnard Castle.

The dress collection has been acquired since the Museum opened, mainly through gifts from local sources. It represents women’s, children’s and men’s clothing and accessories from the late eighteenth century to the 1960s, with particular strengths being women’s dresses of the 1860s and 1870s, examples of haute couture, and a comprehensive series of wedding dresses. Joséphine Bowes’ keen interest in dress is represented by fashion plates from her own French magazines.

The Bowes Museum now houses The Blackborne Lace Collection, containing important study collections and the remaining stock of nineteenth century lace dealers, Anthony and Arthur Blackborne, given to the Museum by their descendants in 2006. It includes many rare pieces including a cavalier’s collar of English needle lace of about 1635. The Metropolitan Museum, New York, purchased a smaller selection of Blackborne lace in 1904, but the recent gift to The Bowes Museum makes it the guardian of one of the largest and most important collections of lace in the world.

The Museum is in the process of creating a NEW Textile and Dress Gallery to open in Spring 2009. In the meantime there is a small selection of textiles on display in The Streatlam Galleries on the ground floor of the Museum."

source: Bowes Museum,

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