A fine art collection featuring historic paintings which have been hidden from public view for centuries is to go on show for the first time in the North-East.

The origin of the collection can be traced back to 1808 when the first students arrived at Ushaw, on the outksirts of Durham, when it was a Catholic seminary.

The paintings, many of which have never been on public display, have been brought together in an exhibition entitled “A Sublime Legacy”.

The exhibition, which is being staged in the William Allen Gallery until November 16, has been curated by Andrew Heard, Ushaw’s Collections Management Officer.

Mr Heard, former curator at Shipley Art Gallery, in Gateshead, said: “Some of the pictures have hung elsewhere in the building but others have been kept hidden away in storage.

“When we started to hang them alongside each other as a collection, they really came to life. The exhibition looks fabulous and it’s been really exciting to be involved in bringing these beautiful pieces into public view for the first time.

“The value is in the paintings’ artistic merit but also the part they have played in a fascinating period of history. I’m sure visitors will enjoy it.”

The majority of the artworks reflect the building’s religious heritage but the collection also features still life studies, landscapes, and cityscapes.

The exhibition also underlines the growing importance of Ushaw’s role in conservation and as a new public museum.
Archive records show that a painting of the Crucifixion, attributed to Charles le Brun, was the first artwork to be displayed at Ushaw. However, the collection’s main period of growth was from 1830 onwards under the tenure of Charles Newsham as President of Ushaw.

One of the highlights of the exhibition – The Crucifixion by Franz von Rohden – was commissioned by Newsham and painted in Rome before being transported to County Durham in 1853.

The painting spent its first decade in Newsham’s office before being transferred to St Aloysius Chapel, the chapel of the Junior House. It has been in storage since the Junior House closed in 1972.

Ushaw closed as a seminary in 2011 but reopened as a visitor centre in 2014 and is now attracting around 50,000 visitors a year.

• To find out more about Ushaw, go to www.ushaw.org