THE UK's first gallery dedicated to the art, history and culture of Spain opens in a County Durham market town this week.

The Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland focuses upon art of the Spanish Golden Age – a period of artistic and literary flourishing in Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries – and whilst relatively small at 800sq m it holds some of the greatest pictures in the world.

The gallery is the latest in a series of cultural attractions developed by the Auckland Project, a charity founded by philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer.

He set up the charity after buying a series of paintings, Jacob and His Twelve Sons by renowned Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran in 2011, along with Auckland Castle, where they have been housed since 1756, to save them for the nation and the town.

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Mr Ruffer's vision is for the Auckland Project’s attractions – Auckland Castle, Deer Park and Walled Garden, the Mining Art Gallery, Auckland Tower Visitor Centre, the Spanish Gallery and a forthcoming Faith Museum - alongside Binchester Roman Fort, The Weardale Railway and the Kynren open air night show and day park – to draw international travellers to the county.

“What we have here is some of the greatest pictures in the world,” said Mr Ruffer, whose own collection is complemented by spectacular loan pieces in the gallery.

“The great thing about fine art is it is democratic, it doesn’t take an education or great deal of knowledge to be moved by art.

“We hope this is a gallery for everyone, just like the Mining Art Gallery, and the Faith Museum will be.”

Mr Ruffer said the most important aspect of the Auckland Project’s work is not “pictures on walls” but regeneration of the area by working with local people on its conservation, heritage, culture, jobs and community projects.

“We want to have something that will appeal to everybody, I want what is going on in Bishop Auckland to be the Maypole of County Durham,” he said.

Significant construction work was needed to create the new gallery by redeveloping two adjacent properties – the Grade II listed Backhouse Bank and neighbouring Barrington School building - into ten gallery spaces spread over three floors.

The Spanish Gallery will be open on Friday, October 15 then from Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 3pm, until December 18 when it closes for the winter.

Visitors are currently asked to pre-book time slots but tickets may be available on the day. For information and tickets, priced £10 for adults with concessions available, go to


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