The Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland is a fitting location for the Spanish surrealist painter’s Christ of St John of the Cross, which is on display until the end of the year.
The largest collection of Spanish art in Britain, the gallery is part of the multi-million pound Auckland Project which has breathed new life into the County Durham market town.
On loan from Glasgow Life Museums, Dalí’s towering work is set to attract more people to the gallery, which officially opened its doors earlier this year. The great work is displayed alongside El Greco's Christ on the Cross, in a first for the region.
Acquired by Glasgow city in 1952 directly from the artist, Salvador Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross is one of the most celebrated and reproduced paintings of the 20th century.
Speaking about his painting at the time, Dalí said: “I want to paint a Christ that is a painting with more beauty and joy than has ever been painted before.”
The unveiling of the piece, which is on show to the public from July 9, is a proud moment for Jonathan Ruffer, Founder of The Auckland Project, who’s long had a passion for Spanish art.
Describing the piece as one of the best-known Spanish paintings in the world, he said: “It’s a really powerful thing and it’s a great honour to have such an iconic picture as this in our new gallery. We’re really pleased to have it and my hope is that people who have that painting on their bucket list will get to come here, to Bishop Auckland, to see it and to discover everything else we have to offer.”
Spanish masterpieces by Francisco de Zurbarán are on display in the state rooms at Auckland Castle, one of the largest collections of Zurbaráns in the world, and the famous portraits sparked the Spanish theme which informs the gallery which lies in the shadow of the castle in the town’s Market Place.
The paintings, which were acquired by the then Bishop of Durham in the 1750s, tell the Old Testament story of the blessings of Jacob.
Jonathan, whose passion and vision has fuelled the Auckland Project, said: “It seemed so unlikely that these Bishops of Durham should have these incredible, theatric, Counter-Reformation Spanish paintings. Like seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury using a hula hoop, it seemed such an unlikely thing.
"I was galvanised to discover that the reason the pictures are here is that the Prince Bishop of the time, Bishop Trevor, was a politician and he steered a bill through parliament for the emancipation of the Jews, an incredible forward-looking act. There was rioting when it was passed and so the bill was reversed.
"What Bishop Trevor did was to acquire these pictures of the fathers of the Israelites. I think of this as being an ‘up yours’ to the Lords because if you were the Duke of Glamis sitting at dinner here, you had to look up at these Jewish, Old Testament patriarchs. I was very moved by that and I thought that the right way of giving the context to these pictures was to create a Spanish Gallery in the town.”
Former director of Glasgow Museums Dr Tom Honeyman, who acquired the work on behalf of the city of Glasgow, expressed Dalí’s eagerness to loan the work as widely as possible, aligning with the Spanish Gallery's mission to make extraordinary examples of Spanish art available to the British public.
Dr Honeyman said: “If I were ever asked what I would do with the Dali, I think I would reply on these lines: Put it into circulation as much and as frequently as possible.”
The Auckland Project
The Auckland Project has four main venues in the town:
::Auckland Castle, once home to the powerful Prince Bishops of Durham. The centre of the project, the Castle recently reopened after undergoing major conservation work, which has transformed its state rooms to their original Georgian Gothic splendour, as designed by the renowned English architect James Wyatt. The town has been home to the Prince Bishops of Durham since 1183, when Bishop Hugh de Puiset built a manor house there, on the grounds of what would become Auckland Castle. This was the Prince Bishops’ country seat, with their main residence at Durham Castle.
At the castle you can also explore the sprawling site’s walled garden and deer park.
The castle estate also hosts huge spectacle Kynren each summer, a stunning outdoor show, with a cast of 1,000, which tells the story of Britain.
A Faith Museum is also being created within the grounds of the castle.
::Auckland Tower. Standing proud in the Bishop Auckland skyline, the 29metre tower with its 15metre viewing platform offers 360° views across Auckland Park, Bishop Auckland town and the rural landscape beyond.
::The Mining Gallery. In honour of the town’s industrial heritage, the Mining Gallery celebrates the work of the artists who were inspired by the North East’s mining communities. The Mining Art Gallery provides a permanent home for the renowned Gemini Collection of Mining Art, which includes more than 420 works by prominent local artists such as Tom McGuinness and Norman Cornish.
::The Spanish Gallery. The largest collection of Spanish art in Britain, The Spanish Gallery is simply stunning with each room beautifully designed to complement the artworks. The Gallery contains works by El Greco, Murillo, and Juan Bautista Maíno, among others.
Opening times and tickets
Opening times for all attractions for the summer season: Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-4pm
::The Spanish Gallery ● Adult: £14 ● Chid 5-15: £7 ● Family 1 adult: £21 ● Family 2 adults: £35.
::Auckland Castle ● Adult: £14 ● Chid 5-15: £7 ● Family 1 adult: £21 ● Family 2 adults: £35.
::The Mining Gallery ● Adult: £7 ● Chid 5-15: £3 ● Family 1 adult: £10 ● Family 2 adults: £17.
::Auckland Tower. Entry is free.