It’s official – the recently completed Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens was the venue’s most popular exhibition ever.

A total of 33,405 people attended Leonardo: A Life in Drawing, an exhibition of 14 drawings marking the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance Master’s death.

The exhibition, part of a nationwide tour of 12 UK venues chosen by the Royal Collection Trust, began in February and closed on May 6.

Jo Cunningham, Exhibitions, Collections and Archive Manager at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, said: “The 33,405 figure refers to anyone who visited the exhibition with a ticket or through the engagement programme, but if you look at the total number of people engaged with the exhibition, which includes activities such as school assemblies, the number rises to 35,515.

“We’d set ourselves an ambitious target of 25,000 visitors, so we’re obviously thrilled that more than 33,400 visited the museum to see the remarkable Leonardo drawings.

“We had an incredible 127,000 visitors to the museum as a whole during the Leonardo Exhibition, that’s even more than visited when Grayson Perry’s Vanity of Small Differences tapestries were here in 2013.”
Keith Merrin, Chief Executive of Sunderland Culture who delivered the programme at the museum on behalf of Sunderland City Council, added: “The success of Leonardo: A Life in Drawing is evidence – if any further proof was needed – that Sunderland is an excellent location for high-quality exhibitions.

“Obviously we were delighted that Sunderland was given the opportunity to stage such a prestigious exhibition by such an important artist, and by any measure, it has been a huge success. A quick look through our visitor comments book reveals visitors from all over the region, across the UK and even internationally.

“I’d like to thank everyone at the Museum and from the wider Sunderland Culture team who’ve worked so hard to make the exhibition a success – and we’re now very much looking forward to hosting exhibitions from the Arts Council Collection at the same venue.”

It was announced in March that the Museum will be one of only three galleries nationwide to present work from the Arts Council Collection as part of the National Partners Programme.

The Arts Council is investing £1.65m nationally into the programme, and the collection will be exhibited over a three-year period. The collection includes work by Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry and Gillian Wearing.

“There’s obviously an audience here for the very best art and we hope the thousands who attended the Leonardo exhibition will return for what will sure to be memorable exhibitions from the Arts Council Collection.”

A series of drawings from respected British portrait artist Andrew Tift complemented the Leonardo drawings. Tift, famous for his paintings of leading politicians, was commissioned to produce 15 drawings of pensioners living in three Washington care homes. The commission was funded by Washington Area Committee.

Now the Leonardo: A Life in Drawing exhibitions at the 12 venues are complete, the drawings are being brought together to form part of an exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the largest exhibition of Leonardo’s work in more than 65 years.

A selection of 80 drawings will then travel to The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse in November, the largest group of Leonardo’s works ever shown in Scotland.

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