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Bid to keep castle paintings in N-E

From the Northern Echo, first published Monday 14th May 2001.

ART lovers are launching a bid to keep a treasured collection of paintings in the North-East.

Thirteen full-length portraits of Jacob and his Twelve Sons, by the 17th Century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran have occupied pride of place in the Bishop of Durham's home, Auckland Castle, for more than 250 years.

But they could be lost to the region for good if the Church Commissioners decide later this month to sell them off to the highest bidder.

The chairman of Bishop Auckland Civic Society, Dr Bob McManners, insists the collection should stay in the castle and has sent a personal plea to senior commissioner Lady Gill Brentford.

He is also canvassing fellow castle trustees, who will discuss the proposed sale for the first time on Friday.

Dr McManners said: "It would be an act of artistic vandalism if these treasures were lost. They are works of international importance, and should stay where they belong."

The Zurbaran paintings were probably destined for the Spanish American colonies when, legend has it, they were shipwrecked and captured by pirates on their journey from Seville.

They arrived in England in 1726, and 30 years later, Bishop Richard Trevor brought the paintings to Auckland Castle, where he later created a gallery on the first floor.

He bought 12 for between £2 and £25 each, but missed out on the 13th, a portrait of Jacob's son Benjamin, which went to a London collector and was replaced by an Arthur Pond copy.

Now they are worth millions, although experts say a £10m estimate is wide of the mark.

And although Bowes Museum, at Barnard Castle, would be interested in keeping them in the North-East, they would find it difficult to match the buying power of wealthy foreign collectors or institutions such as Spain's national gallery, the Prado.

Bowes director Adrian Jenkins has also written to the Church Commissioners. He said: "I feel strongly that the paintings should remain in the North-East if at all possible.

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