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Two posters for the Bowes Museum’s exhibition titled SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story.

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Featuring around 25 key objects from collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum and The National Gallery, SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story runs from January 26-May 5 at The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle.

Museum acquisitions

It seeks to celebrate dealers’ shops, tastes, practices and their role in the creation of museum collections.

The novel exhibition is guest-curated by Mark Westgarth of Leeds University, who, during 10 years of research, has worked to track the cultural geography of the cultural geography of British antiques dealing in the 20th century.

“The relationship between museums and the art market has been one of dislocation. I’m interested in changing the marginalised narrative by bringing together world-class objects and telling their hidden histories to provoke museum audiences into thinking about them differently,” says Westgarth.

Among the objects selected is a Ming porcelain bowl purchased from Bluett & Sons in 1934 by Sir Percival David (now on loan to the BM from the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art) and a c.1484-90 bronze and parcel gilt figure of Meleanger by Antico sold by HC Baxter & Sons in 1960, which is now in the V&A.

One of the posters produced for the exhibition pictures the Antico with the caption: I was originally bought on a ‘hunch’ at an auction in Kent for £16. It’s said I was painted white, but when cleaned with soap, I soon revealed my former glory.

‘Founded on dealers’

There are also pieces sourced from the Bowes Museum’s own collection.

Jane Whittaker, head of collections, says: “The story of the museum is founded on dealers. Its collection, 15,000 items strong, was put together largely [with their help].

“It’s the first time an exhibition has focused on the life an item had before becoming a ‘museum object’.”