After Downton, what about the love affair between ‘Papa’ and ‘Puss’? – Art & Leisure
In her regular column, Dorothy Blundell takes a side look at the collections of the Bowes Museum where she volunteers. This week, she writes a whimsical open letter to actor, novelist and screenwriter Julian Fellowes …
Following your well-deserved success with Downton, could this be your next project? It is essentially a love story shrouded in an aristocratic family dynasty and set in the grubby, war-torn streets of 19th Paris contrasting against the beautiful backdrop of rural northern England where – from incongruously – a sumptuous French chateau is the focal point.
The hero was born of noble blood, but with the stain of illegitimacy. He is a cheeky young man who becomes a shrewd businessman with a keen sense of public duty and who uses his vast wealth with extraordinary benevolence.
The heroine is a pretty young Parisian actress with a light build and an angry character, but with a generous and benevolent heart. She’s not a gold digger, although she easily climbs the social ladder offered by her company, and obviously adores her handsome, broad-shouldered beau, calling him “Papa”.
This is the story of John and Josephine Bowes. Their life together and their lasting legacy of the magnificent museum they left behind are a rich source of material for a film or television adaptation. Their love transcended 19th century class barriers, as our hero married his French mistress – just as his knighted father before him similarly married a commoner who had been his wife in everything but name for ten years.
Who would you choose for the title role?
Maybe Hugh Jackman (from his days as Wolverine when he sports John’s mutton chop mustaches). And his young wife? Perhaps Juliet Binoche, born in France, with her dark hair, big eyes and her ability to portray a deceptive inner strength.
Here’s a thought: the storyline could open with a photo of John as an old man. He is seated at a small table on the terrace of his house in Streatlam (it actually exists).
His white mustache is neatly trimmed and he wears a suit, bow tie and black hat. In his hand is a stick he needs to help him walk. There is an air of sadness in the slope of his shoulders and his gaze is melancholy: a man tired of life.
He remembers an earlier time. Cut to a high-contrast image of a portrait of a middle-aged John which was painted by Feyen in 1863. John’s expression radiates energy and bonhomie. He sits on a rock, cradling his shotgun, bagged game birds, and a small dog at his feet. This is the classic pose of a country squire.
In our imagination, the cameras would show this portrait dissolving into “real life” and Hugh Jackman – playing John Bowes – getting up to dispense with all the props and take care of the business at hand. It was customary for portrait painters to be depicted surrounded by objects reflecting their interests, but John’s wish to be seen as a sportsman was curious given that such activities of wealthy idlers played very little part in his life.
He was more interested in public service and managing his assets in coal, shipping and land while running his theater in Paris and indulging his passions for art collecting, horses and races.
We are in April 1847. Enter Madame Delorme, known as JosÃ©phine Coffin-Chevallier. John Bowes, 35, is instantly wowed by the 22-year-old beauty with his disarming kitten smile. He calls her “Puss” and although their love marriage (they married in 1852, five years after meeting them) will prove to be childless, the two of them give birth to the Bowes Museum.
She is the driving force behind the project, and he is the money. Although often estranged, John writes to “Puss” every other day and gladly satisfies her cravings for expensive designer dresses and lavish furniture for their homes in Paris and Louveciennes. When she goes out to paint, he usually accompanies her.
The year 1852 is also significant as John’s horse Daniel O’Rorke won the Derby and the following year West Australian won the Triple Crown, the first horse to do so. Imagine all those scenes of parties and celebrations. JosÃ©phine accompanied him to Longchamps, the Paris racecourse, when it opened in 1857, and to the Goodwood racecourse in Sussex.
It was all part of the happy couple’s love of life and embraced the finest things it had to offer during the Second Empire (1852-1870). While we don’t know for sure that they rubbed shoulders with French royalty, it seems quite likely that they did.
Perhaps they socialized at the opera, at the races, or at one of the many sumptuous balls given by Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie at the Tuileries.
Significant scenes include the couple’s numerous shopping sprees for works of art and artifacts, amassing 15,000 items in just a few years, including visits to the 1867 Paris exhibition where they first saw. times the silver swan. This realistic musical automaton eventually became the museum’s most famous and beloved exhibit. And when France goes to war with Prussia, they take refuge in England and spend months worrying about the fate of their collection, which remains intact.
The film ends in tears on a scene of November 27, 1869 and the laying of the first stone of the museum by JosÃ©phine, whose fragile health then deteriorates. She strikes courageously, but weakly, at a stone with a silver trowel.
Juliette – like Josephine – with trembling lip, declares: “I will lay the bottom stone and you, Mr. Bowes, will lay the top stone.” ”
Sadly, JosÃ©phine died at the age of 48 in 1874, when the museum building was still unfinished. John’s heart is broken (violins and tissues) and he doesn’t know how he can continue.
The final scenes are cut from the opening image of John as the old man and we see how he effectively continues. He may be tired of life, but he’s determined to stay steadfast until the end (his family motto). Our hero honors his and Josephine’s dream of bringing a French chateau to Barnard’s chateau to house wonderful works of art that delight and educate the public.
When he died at the age of 74 in 1885, it would be another seven years before the museum’s doors finally opened. But the history of the museum continues. It always welcomes visitors to explore the thousands of art treasures it contains. Close-up of the moving Silver Swan. The end credits scroll … and go black.
So, Lord Fellowes, what do you think? Here are all the ingredients you could possibly need to create wonderful drama.
There is glamor with royal banquets and lavish period costumes, there is conflict with the ugliness of war and famine. There are loyal servants of Bowes, including a housekeeper whose game pie is legendary, and there is sorrow. But above all, there is love – John and Josephine’s love for each other and their love of art and sharing it with the world.
Maybe you could call him Swanton.