John Bowes was a prominent English businessman, philanthropist, and cultural enthusiast known for his contributions to the arts and his legacy in County Durham. Born on 17 June 1811, illegitimately, in London to John Bowes, 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and Mary Milner, he inherited his family's wealth and estates. Despite being born into nobility, Bowes was not entitled to inherit his father's title due to his parents' marriage being deemed invalid.
His early life was marked by a strong interest in the arts, particularly in theater and fine arts. He became a prominent figure in society and gained recognition for his passion for collecting various artworks. Bowes had a keen eye for art and amassed a substantial collection of paintings, ceramics, and decorative arts from across Europe.
In 1862, Bowes married the French actress Joséphine Coffin-Chevallier, whom he met during his travels. Their union led to the establishment of the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham. This magnificent institution was founded in 1892, seven years after Bowes's death, as stipulated in his will. The Bowes Museum, designed in the style of a French château, houses his extensive art collection and remains a testament to his lifelong passion for the arts.
Bowes was not only an art enthusiast but also a forward-thinking businessman. He invested in various industries, including coal mining and railways, contributing significantly to the economic development of the Durham region.
- Black, Jonathan. "The Patronage of John and Joséphine Bowes: Collecting and Display at the Bowes Museum, c. 1862–1874." The Burlington Magazine, vol. 157, no. 1343, 2015, pp. 424–433.
- Durham County Council. "John Bowes (1811–1885)." The Bowes Museum. [Online] Available at: https://www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk/Collections/Explore-The-Collection/John-Bowes. Accessed on 28 November 2023.
- Jewitt, Llewellynn. The Life and Works of John Bowes. Nabu Press, 2010.
- Roberts, Kenneth. John and Joséphine: The Creation of The Bowes Museum. Durham County Council, 1989.