Auckland Castle has announced plans for a new £4 million art gallery focusing on Spain’s ‘Golden Age’, which it is hopes will raise County Durham’s profile as an academic and tourist hub.
It is aiming to attract loans from major international public and private collections such as the Museo del Prado in Madrid, which holds the biggest collection of paintings by some of Spain’s greatest artists including Zurbarán, El Greco, Goya, Ribera and Velázquez.
The gallery is earmarked for an old bank building in Bishop Auckland Market Place and is the brainchild of investment manager and art lover Jonathan Ruffer, who in 2012 bought Auckland Castle and placed it in a charitable Trust.
The Prado’s deputy director, Gabriele Finaldi, was in County Durham last week taking part in a Spanish art symposium when he took time out to view the site of the proposed gallery.
The gallery is part of a wider, long-term aspiration shared by Auckland Castle, The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, and Durham University to establish the county as a key international academic and tourist destination focused around the area’s rich concentration of Spanish art.
Between them they house the biggest pool of Golden Age Spanish art outside London.
Dr Chris Ferguson, Auckland Castle’s Curatorial Director hopes the existing collections coupled with the new plans being developed will attract a new audience to the region:
This [the gallery] will support the rich and diverse offering of heritage sites and museums in the North East, from Hadrian’s Wall to contemporary art at Baltic and Mima, Beamish and Durham Cathedral. I hope the gallery and our wider plans will make a significant contribution to the local cultural profile, driving economic regeneration through tourism.
A planning application to convert the former Barclays Bank building is expected to be submitted to Durham County Council at the end of November.
The proposal also includes the founding of a new art research institute.