A much loved work from the National Gallery Collection – Edouard Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian - is coming to The Bowes Museum as part of the Masterpiece Tour.

The three-year tour programme is part of the National Gallery’s commitment to promote the understanding, knowledge and appreciation of Old Master paintings to as wide an audience as possible, with this current opportunity receiving support from Christie’s.

The painting – the first to travel on the tour - will be on show at The Bowes Museum from 22 March until 18 May 2014. It depicts the fatal moment when Ferdinand Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, was captured by Benito Juárez’s Mexican forces and executed alongside two of his generals – Mejía and Miramón – in 1867.

The left hand section was most likely cut off by Manet himself, but after his death the canvas was cut into smaller fragments, some of which were sold separately. The artist Edgar Degas, appreciating the great importance of the work eventually purchased all of the surviving fragments and reassembled them on a single canvas, which has been part of the National Gallery Collection since 1918.

It will be displayed alongside Jules de Vignon’s Portrait of Emperor Napoleon III after Winterhalter, dated 1867; The Emperor Napoleon III Reviewing Troops on the Champs Elysées, Paris by H. J. C; a furnishing brocade with the insignia of Napoleon III, and clothes that belonged to the Empress Eugenie.

“Together with contemporary magazines and journals, these works will introduce visitors to the Second Empire and the political developments which preceded Maximilian’s execution,” said Emma House, Keeper of Art at The Bowes Museum.

The masterpiece will also be displayed with reproductions of Manet’s lithographs, L’Exécution de Maximilien and La Barricade, scène de la Commune de Paris, and reproductions of other versions of The Execution of Maximilian which will enable the Museum to explore the development of the picture and the highly charged imagery of the firing squad clothed in military uniform.

“Using this important painting from the National Gallery, and the lithographs, we will explore the censorship Manet faced in tackling such a politically sensitive subject,” added Ms House.

Adrian Jenkins, Director of The Bowes Museum, said: “We are delighted to have been chosen for inclusion in the Masterpiece Tour, which will afford North East audiences a wonderful opportunity to view this important painting outside London.

“Joséphine Bowes, an accomplished amateur artist, was a keen admirer of Manet’s work and I’m sure she would have approved of The Bowes Museum displaying one of his most important masterpieces,” he added.

The Execution of Maximilian will also be on show at The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, Canterbury Museum and Galleries; and Mead Gallery, University of Warwick.