John Bowes is sitting on a boulder with dead game lying at his side. His friend, Monsignor Thomas Witham of Lartington Hall is said to have jokingly remarked that there is more game in the portrait than John had ever shot in his life. Streatlam Castle can be seen faintly at the top left corner of the picture.
John Bowes was the natural son of John Lyon Bowes, 10th Earl of Strathmore, and of Mary Millner, an ordinary girl from the village of Stainton near of Barnard Castle and closer still to the Streatlam Estate. Although his parents subsequently married, John did not succeed to the Strathmore title that was claimed by his uncle (his father's brother). The issue was brought before an English court that decided in the uncle's favour. However, John did not lose everything. His father's will made him the wealthy heir to more than 40,000 acres of land, the major part of which, the estates of Streatlam, Gibside and Wemmergill, was in the north east of England.
Although John was considerably older than his wife he outlived her by 11 years. On his death his coffin was laid close to hers in the vault of the family chapel at Gibside until the Catholic church of St Mary at a corner of the Museum grounds was built. When this was completed in 1928, their bodies were removed from Gibside and re-interred behind the apse of the new church. Although John Bowes was not a Catholic himself, he had provided money to build the church out of respect for his wife's wishes.
Streatlam Castle stood on an estate three miles from Barnard Castle that had belonged to the Bowes family for more than 600 years. The estate was sold in the 1920s and the castle gradually fell into such disrepair that it was demolished in 1959 in the interests of safety.
The artist was a portrait and genre painter who had received his formation from a better-known artist, Paul Delaroche.
Where to see this painting?
The Bowes Museum
Barnard Castle, County Durham, England, DL12 8NP
If you are planning a visit to see this painting, check with the collection first. Paintings can be moved at short notice.