Masterpieces Make Their Way to County Durham

Nicolas Poussin The Triumph of Pan, 1636; Oil on canvas

National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2019 – Featuring The Triumph of Pan 5 October, 2019 – 5 January, 2020 Bishop Trevor Gallery, The Auckland Project, Bishop Auckland Sponsored by Christie’s

Classical masterpieces from two of the country’s most prestigious art collections are being brought together at a new exhibition in County Durham.

Artworks from the National Gallery and the Royal Collection will go on display in the Bishop Trevor Gallery, within Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland from October 5, 2019.

The Triumph of Pan by French Baroque artist Nicolas Poussin will be at the centre of this new exhibition. Widely considered to be the founder of the French classical tradition, Poussin paved the way for generations of artists in his homeland, The Triumph of Pan is one of his most significant works housed in the UK.

The Triumph of Pan is travelling to County Durham as part of the National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2019, sponsored by Christie’s, which aims to share artworks from the National Gallery with as many people as possible outside of the gallery’s London home.

For this exhibition, the painting will be united with three preparatory drawings by Poussin, which are associated with The Triumph of Pan. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection, these drawings will offer visitors an insight into the artist’s vision and working processes behind the finished canvas.

The exhibition also sets The Triumph of Pan in context, revealing the cultural landscape in which it was created.
In the early 17th century, Rome was the perceived capital of Europe – the seat of the Papacy and centre of the ancient Roman world.

Archaeological excavations across the city had brought the art of ancient Rome from beneath the streets and into the homes and gardens of the most learned and influential people in society. Powerful papal families built magnificent villas and palaces in the city, filling them with these antiquities and new works of art they had commissioned.

Many French artists of this time, including Poussin, were drawn to the Eternal City to study the ruins of ancient Rome, classical sculpture and the great Renaissance paintings commissioned by successive Popes. Others studied these treasures from afar, through prints of antiquities shipped across Europe.

They found inspiration in the beauty and dimensions of classical statues, such as the marble Apollo Belvedere, which Poussin and other artists were known to have measured to determine the ideal proportions with which to represent the human form.

These influences came together to create a distinctive style of French classicism, which set the course for generations of artists in France. This led to the creation of complex, narrative depictions of scenes from the Bible, ancient history and classical mythology, particularly the writings of Roman poets Ovid and Virgil.

Acknowledged as pre-eminent in his day, Poussin was named Premier Peintre du Roi (First Painter of the King) and described by one contemporary as “The Raphael of France.”

At the height of his career, living and working in Rome, Poussin was commissioned to create The Triumph of Pan by Cardinal Richelieu, a prelate, art collector and Chief Minister to King Louis XIII of France, for his newly built chateau in Poitou.

Poussin created this masterpiece, influenced by classical texts such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It shows a group of nymphs and satyrs revelling before a statue of Pan, the god of woods and fields. They are taking part in celebration of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, fertility and theatre.

The Triumph of Pan will be displayed alongside other 17th century paintings, which show the great flowering of art in Rome during this period and reflect the impact of classical antiquity and Renaissance masters upon Poussin’s contemporaries. This includes Narcissus and Echo by François Perrier and Aeneas and Anchises in the Underworld by Alexandre Ubeleski.

Clare Baron, Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation at The Auckland Project, said: “Poussin may be described as the father of French classical painting, a style which endured for centuries, his work inspiring generations of artists including Jacques-Louis David and even Paul Cézanne. In the beautiful and remarkable Triumph of Pan, Poussin’s talent, intellect and invention is revealed with dramatic force.

Auckland Castle, as home of the ‘Prince Bishops’ – who ruled the lands between the Tyne and the Tees on behalf of the monarch – provides a unique context for The Triumph of Pan, which was commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu, France’s leading statesman and prelate.

We are grateful indeed to the National Gallery for allowing The Triumph of Pan to come to County Durham, we hope to create a new love of art in people of all ages and walks of life.”

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, of the National Gallery said: “The Masterpiece Tour gives us the opportunity to share a great painting with people across the country. Poussin’s mythological masterpiece will be shown in Bath, York and Bishop Auckland where some fascinating and very varied programmes are planned. We are much looking forward to the Tour.”

The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2019, featuring The Triumph of Pan will be exhibited at the Bishop Trevor Gallery, from Saturday, 5 October 2019 until Sunday, 5 January 2020.

Housed within Auckland Castle, the gallery is named after Bishop Trevor, Bishop of Durham 1752 – 1771, who acquired the paintings of Jacob and his Twelve Sons by Francisco de Zurbarán that hang in the Castle’s Long Dining Room.

Just like Cardinal Richelieu, Bishop Trevor enjoyed great power, wealth, and influence. He too was a patron and collector, filling Auckland Castle with works of art. Ultimately, both these men used art to promote their status, taste, and intellect, and to further their political standing/goals.
Art lovers can find out more about The Triumph of Pan in a talk on the exhibition on Thursday, 21 November.

‘Talks in the Tower: An Introduction to Poussin’s Triumph of Pan’ will see National Gallery Curator, Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper shed light on the painting, the context of its commission and its possible meanings. The event, at Auckland Tower, Bishop Auckland Market Place, will open at 6.30pm, tickets are £5 and include a hot drink. To book visit , call 01388 743 797 or email

Bishop Trevor Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Tickets are priced at £5 for adults, £4 for concessions and £1 for under-16s. Tickets can be booked online at, by calling 01388 743 797 or at The Auckland Tower visitor centre in Bishop Auckland. For more information, email:


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