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The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle wouldn't exist without the painter of this work.

Joséphine Benoîte Coffin-Chevallier was a French actor with Théâtre des Variétés in Paris who captured the heart of the English landowner John Bowes.

The Château du Barry at Louveciennes, France

The Château du Barry at Louveciennes, France c.1860–1862

Joséphine Bowes (1825–1874)

The Bowes Museum

She was also a talented artist, whose work was chosen to be exhibited at the Paris Salon four times and more than 60 of her works, including landscapes (such as this) and still lifes, can be seen in the museum they founded.

They married in 1852 and John gave Joséphine the Château du Barry, shown bathed in sunlight in this painting, as a wedding gift. It is suggested that the figure of the lady who can be seen sitting beside the path between the tall trees could even be Joséphine herself.

Joséphine Bowes (1825–1874), Countess of Montalbo

Joséphine Bowes (1825–1874), Countess of Montalbo 1850

Antoine Dury (1819–after 1880)

The Bowes Museum

By the 1860s the couple realised they would be childless and John credits Joséphine with coming up with the idea of creating a museum to share their passion for art with the people of the area they loved – John's family home in Teesdale, County Durham. They sold the Château du Barry to fund their museum project and began a decade-long buying spree, amassing more than 15,000 objects during that time, ranging from Spanish paintings to delicate French ceramics and glass.

John Bowes, Esq. (1811–1885)

John Bowes, Esq. (1811–1885) 1863

Jacques Eugène Feyen (1815–1908)

The Bowes Museum

In 1869 Joséphine laid the foundation stone for the museum, saying, 'I lay the bottom stone, and you, Mr Bowes, will lay the top stone.'

But sadly, neither of them lived to see their magnificent museum open to the public in 1892. Joséphine died in 1874, and John in 1885.

Alison White, media and PR officer at The Bowes Museum

A version of this article was originally published by The Guardian as part of The Great British Art Tour.