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Major new gallery for the display and study of Spanish art commissioned in County Durham
Barrington Building. Feilden Clegg Bradley.

COUNTY DURHAM.- Ambitious £5.5m plans have been unveiled for a pioneering new gallery dedicated to the display and research of Spanish art to be created in County Durham as part of the Auckland Castle restoration and redevelopment project. Monumental works from some of the most significant artists of the 16th and 17th centuries, including El Greco, Ribera, Velàzquez and Zurbaràn, are among a collection spanning Spanish and Hispanic art history from the Medieval period to the late 20th Century in the groundbreaking new development opening in 2018.

This internationally significant new gallery is expected to bring academics and tourists to Bishop Auckland, acting as a catalyst for the regeneration of the area. Dedicated to the study and appreciation of Spain’s Golden Age, the gallery and institute mark a major development in a number of cultural schemes led by the Auckland Castle Trust.

The Spanish galleries are inspired by a series of religious paintings by the great Spanish Baroque artist, Francisco de Zurbaràn, that currently hang in nearby Auckland Castle, and will involve the transformation of two disused buildings in Bishop Auckland Market Place. Stirling Prize-winning architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios have designed the dramatic new gallery spaces over three floors created within the existing façade of a former bank, connecting to a former school with a striking double-height atrium space to display larger works. The gallery will also include a centre for study, an art history library, café and gift shop, creating a destination for both academics and the general public to enjoy.

Among the works due to feature in the inaugural exhibition will be El Greco’s remarkable depiction of Christ on the Cross, recently purchased by Auckland Castle for £2.5m with the help of a £377,348 grant from the Art Fund. Other significant pieces also bought by Auckland Castle include a 17th century still life by Juan de Arellano, a sculpture of the Crucified Christ by Luisa Roldán and a separate 13th century Catalonian statue of Jesus.

In addition to the artworks on display, an expert team of curators will join Auckland Castle in this major new venture, including a senior curator supported by a joint post with the nearby Bowes Museum funded by the John Ellerman Foundation, and an assistant curator appointed through the National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship Programme supported by the Art Fund with the assistance of the Vivmar Foundation.

Over time it is hoped the gallery and institute will become the nucleus for the study and appreciation of Spanish art in the UK, and will go on to include annual festivals celebrating Spanish culture, expanding its role within the international art historical community. The public will also play a major part in the new gallery, with education programmes planned to encourage visitors to explore and understand the role of Spanish artwork in European art history.

While the central theme of the new gallery will be the Spanish Golden Age which gave the world El Greco, Velàzquez, Ribera and Zurbaràn, Dr Christopher Ferguson, Curatorial Director, plans to showcase works from the late medieval period to the early 20th century in order to illustrate Spanish art’s development and significance in the canon of Western art history.

Dr. Christopher Ferguson, Auckland Castle’s Curatorial Director, said: “We are delighted to announce the development of the new Spanish gallery here in Bishop Auckland. The gallery and research centre represent an unparalleled concentration of Hispanic art and expertise in the United Kingdom. The Spanish gallery will be a gem in the UK’s cultural landscape, showing a limited number of great works of art that are rarely seen by lovers of Spanish culture, especially in this country.

“For many it will be an introduction to the treasures of Spain, and we believe that with a mixture of loans from internationally famous museums and Auckland Castle’s own collection, it will be possible to achieve this. The works on display at the Spanish gallery will stand up against those in any museum in the world. It will be a chance for people to view pieces by some of the best-known artistic names to come out of Spain’s Golden Age here in County Durham on the walls of what will be a major new venue and research centre.

We are very grateful for the support and generosity shown to us by the Art Fund, and we are thrilled that come 2018 we will be able to share El Greco’s Christ on the Cross by placing it on public display. Alongside our other acquisitions and the works set to come to Bishop Auckland in the future, it will also help put in context other outstanding collections of Spanish art held in County Durham at Bowes Museum and Durham Cathedral.”

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