CLASSICAL masterpieces rarely seen outside of London– and some which are never on public display– have been handpicked for a prestigious new exhibition.

Auckland Castle is the final location for the National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2019, which has already taken the Nicholas Poussin's The Triumph of Pan to venues in Bath and York.

When the curatorial team at The Auckland Project learnt it had been selected to host the final leg of the tour, which aims to take artwork to new audiences across the country, they began building an exhibition with the French Baroque artist's famous oil canvas as its centrepiece.

They managed to get a range of work by other French artists working in Rome during the 17th century– the heart of art and culture– from the Royal Collection and a private art enthusiast, including Narcissus and Echo by François Perrier and Aeneas and Anchises in the Underworld by Alexandre Ubeleski.

The Northern Echo:

The artworks will be displayed in the Bishop Trevor Gallery, which is inside the castle, from this Saturday until January 5, 2020.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, of the National Gallery, said: “The Masterpiece Tour gives us the opportunity to share a great painting with people across the country.”

Lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection, these drawings will offer visitors an insight into Poussin’s artistic process before he arrived at the final canvas.

The Triumph of Pan was produced at the height of Poussin’s career when he was commissioned to create the piece by Cardinal Richelieu, a prelate, art collector and Chief Minister to King Louis XIII of France, for his newly built chateau in Poitou.

The painting was inspired by classical texts such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and it shows a group of nymphs and satyrs revelling before a statue of Pan, the god of woods and fields, taking part in celebration of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, fertility and theatre.

Many French artists of this time, including Poussin, were drawn to the Eternal City to study the ruins of ancient Rome, classical sculpture and the great Renaissance paintings commissioned by successive Popes.

These influences came together to create a distinctive style of French classicism, which set the course for generations of artists in France.

This led to the creation of complex, narrative depictions of scenes from the Bible, ancient history and classical mythology, particularly the writings of Roman poets Ovid and Virgil.

The Northern Echo:

Clare Baron, head of exhibitions and interpretation at The Auckland Project, said: “Poussin may be described as the father of French classical painting, a style which endured for centuries, his work inspiring generations of artists including Jacques-Louis David and even Paul Cézanne.“We are grateful indeed to the National Gallery for allowing The Triumph of Pan to come to County Durham, we hope to create a new love of art in people of all ages and walks of life.”

The Auckland Project is keen to make its attractions and galleries accessible to the public, and for people not to feel its exhibitions are only for the most knowledgeable art lovers.

The project has worked with teenagers from Bishop Auckland and Ferryhill who have looked at and interpreted The Triumph of Pan, and some of their own artwork will be displayed in Auckland Tower, in Bishop Auckland Market Place, from mid-November.

There will also be a talk about the exhibition on Thursday, November 21.

‘Talks in the Tower: An Introduction to Poussin’s Triumph of Pan’ will see National Gallery Curator, Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper shed light on the painting, the context of its commission and its possible meanings.

The Northern Echo:

Angela Thomas, exhibitions curator at The Auckland Project, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for people to see what is one of the masterpieces of the 17th Century alongside other artists that were working with Poussin or who were influenced by him.

“We hope people come into the gallery to see the exhibition, is really important for people to take from it whatever they get, it is here for everyone.”