Openings United Kingdom

Zurbarán sale could lead to National Gallery branch

Auckland Castle is target for northern outpost

Zurbaráns in the long dining room, Auckland Castle

london. The National Gallery may open an outpost in County Durham, in the north of England, following the Church Commis­sioners’ sale of its £15m Zurbarán paintings to an independent trust. Auckland Castle would then become the gallery’s first branch in nearly two centuries.

Following years of uncertainty, the set of Zurbarán’s “Jacob and his Twelve Sons” was saved last month, when financial advisor Jonathan Ruffer bought them from the Church of England for a charitable trust. Without his intervention, the paintings would probably have been auctioned in July and possibly dispersed.

As part of the initiative to expand public access to Auckland Castle and the Zurbaráns, the National Gallery has agreed to consider loans from its collection. This display should encourage further visitors to the castle, the seat of the Bishop of Durham for over 800 years.

Lord Rothschild, chairman of the National Gallery until 1998, has played a key role in saving the Zurbaráns. “It would be wonderful if the gallery trustees were to lend appropriate paintings to Auckland Castle and establish an outstation for northeast Eng­land,” he said. Such an agreement could then lead to a changing selection of loans on a long-term basis, with the gallery involved in the display.

A National Gallery spokes­woman said that it “hopes to be able to lend”, although decisions will be up to the trustees.

Zurbarán’s “Jacob and his Twelve Sons”, 1640-45, was bought for Auckland Castle by Bishop Richard Trevor in 1756. The eight-foot-high pictures have always hung in its long dining room. Although the full set comprises 13 works, Trevor failed to buy the one of Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin (it was replaced with an 18th-century copy).

The Church Commissioners decided to sell the Zurbaráns, to raise funds towards its responsibility for funding the Anglican clergy. Although a valuation of £10m had been suggested in 2005, the latest figure was £15m.

The next stage will be to decide how to open up Auckland Castle to a greater extent (it now opens two or three days a week, from Easter to September) which will involve an arrangement with the Church Commissioners, who own the building, and upgrading public facilities.

Discussions are underway with Durham County Council, the National Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund (a potential source of grants), the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, English Heritage and the National Gallery. Lord Rothschild has already offered £1m from the Rothschild Foundation. Trevor had been a supporter of the 1753 Jewish Naturalisation Bill and this was one of Lord Rothschild’s reasons for securing the Zurbaráns, which depict the Patriarch Jacob and the founders of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Benjamin passed, in 1779, to the family of Baron Willoughby de Eresby of Grims­thorpe Castle, Lincoln­shire. It is hoped that the family will lend the painting to Auckland Castle later this year, so Jacob’s youngest son can, at least temporarily, rejoin his brothers.

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