20th May – 16th July
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Review by Roisin Corbett.
Josephine Bowes: A Woman of Taste and Influence is an exhibition detailing the life and career of (of course) Josephine Bowes, co founder of the Bowes Museum. However, the exhibition is not solely focused on her work through the museum, and is instead a comprehensive look at her life; detailing her rise from a Parisian actress to a wealthy socialite.
I found the way in which the exhibition was organized to be a very interesting and nuanced approach in order to explore the life of Mrs Bowes. The exhibition was organized into the different categories of ‘woman’ Josephine was seen to be; such as actress, painter, wife, and socialite, which I thought engaged the viewer with the material present in a much more enlightening way. The layout of the exhibition was almost like a well-signposted maze, taking the viewer on a journey which worked very well. Periods of change or transition in Josephine’s life necessitated the viewer to physically move along to the next section, adding to the feeling of journeying through Josephine’s life with her.
The fact that the story of Josephine’s life was told through artefacts was also an inspired decision, in my opinion. Not only did viewing her personal possessions make Josephine seem to be more relatable, but it was also a very interesting insight into a past society. Personal highlights included Josephine’s trademark pink ball gown, which she was always depicted wearing, and some of the paintings Josephine had created herself. A further favourite of mine was a painting of Josephine and her beloved dog, which was apparently the first known painting of a Labrador.
However, as the Bowes museum was Josephine’s brainchild, I find it a little confusing that this exhibition is not permanent. The exhibition explains how Josephine made specific choices in regards to what she wanted to be in her collection, and also explains why she wanted to start her own museum in the first place. Without this key information, the rest of the museum does not have the same kind of impact, as it is missing crucial context. I think that part of the reason I enjoyed the rest of the museum so much was because I had seen it after viewing the Josephine Bowes exhibition. Without it, the museum would probably not have had the same effect.
On the whole I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. I found it incredibly interesting, and thought that the layout worked very well to demonstrate all of the different aspects of Josephine’s life. However, I must reiterate that I do not understand why the exhibition is not permanent. As the founder of the museum, Josephine’s life is intrinsically intertwined with the life and contents of the museum itself, and so to split up these two stories seems an odd choice.