Leeds City Art Gallery

The art gallery in Leeds, put up by the city Corporation in 1889 at a cost of over 10,000, contains an important and impressive collection of Victorian art. Most of the Victorian pictures hang in a single downstairs gallery and in the main hall, and we start with Lady Butler's Scotland for Ever, the first picture in the permanent collection, donated by a Mr Walter Harding. Multitudinous cavalry charge out of the picture, an active scene of mad-eyed horses, big hooves, and grimacing figures.

H. J. Draper has one of his chefs d'oeuvre, Ulysses and the Sirens, and Waterhouse has a Lady of Shalott, a youthful version of his favorite model. Leighton is represented by a dramatic Return of Persephone and a small study of a male figure. J. W. Inchbold is represented by his famous ultra-Pre-Raphaelite picture The White Doe at Rylstone, and Millais has a lunette, entitled Infancy. All of these are key works.

Now to some other important works. Arthur Hacker's Temptation of St Percival is my personal favorite depiction of that subject - the Knight sits untempted, with an excellent sullen little boy expression, while the very tempting girl leans towards him, likewise with a too-young expression. Frank Holl's Village Funeral is an important work of the school of social realism. G. W. Joy's two pictures include his well known General Gordon's Last Stand. Also notable are E. M. Hale's The Mermaid's Rock for its very wet looking wave, the effortlessly excellent composition of William Etty's Pandora Crowned by the Seasons, the religious story-book picture by Maclise, and for its sheer size, the sketchy but dramatic Retribution by E. A. Armitage, apparently being Britannia dealing a death blow to the Indian tiger; mother and infants lie beneath.

Also on show is notable genre work by P. H. Calderon, George Bernard O'Neil, and Haynes King, excellent portraiture by Herkomer, Whistler and the obscure Emily Childers, a Hogarthian town scene by Joseph Rhodes, and a good lamplit scene The Three Fisher Wives by Mrs Webb-Robinson. There are good examples of atmospheric outdoor scenes by Atkinson Grimshaw. Not often seen on gallery walls and worth seeing for that reason are works by the animal painter Arthur Wardle, by Flora M Reid and by Mouat Loudan, all of who can do better.

The central statue, The Hope Venus, is one of Canova's most celebrated works.

Moving out into the hall, apart from works already mentioned, Walter Crane has one of his best paintings, At Home, showing Mrs Crane indoors with great sense of ornament. Typical works by Edward Stott, Cayley Robinson and H. S. Tuke, an impressively geological work by someone called Adelsteen Normann, and a characterless portrait of Rosa Bonheur complete the count.

The staircase has brownish landscapes and seascapes by the French and English, including examples of Crome and Cotman.

Upstairs, part of the bequest of Sam Wilson, a Leeds man who made his fortune in woollen manufacture, occupies one large room, dominated by the murals of Frank Brangwyn (who has smaller pictures there also, and another big work A Venetian Funeral over the stairwell), and the remarkable Chimneypiece by Alfred Gilbert. The latter work is apparently symbolic of marriage, but this is not obvious: flanking a central rather sketchy portrait of Justice, two ornate pillars upheld by nudes with headresses and skulls. Below, seated groups, then slightly grotesqued steles, more encrustations and detail everywhere. Central panel below picture has man on Roman recliner surrounded by Death carrying a small nude, a larger woman with child, monkeys, angelic figures and more.

Also in the room, an interesting collection of post-impressionist and post-Victorian works. A good chance to see a variety of impressive works by George Clausen, and a mixed bunch by William Orpen including a good nude study. Glyn Philpot has a strange murder scene called The Death Blow. Also local work by George Sauter and the less than impressive Mark Senior, the latter unfortunately being given the portraits of the donor, Sam Wilson, and his spouse. A much better portrait of Wilson is the sculpture by Edward Caldwell Spruce, showing him purposeful and bewhiskered. Note also the collection of works by the cows-in-a-landscape painter Mark Fisher, decent work well capturing the greens and browns of the English countryside.

The gallery also contains a collection of Impressionists, including Sisley, sketchy work by Sickert and works by Spencer Gore. Much modern stuff. A final statue in the main building worthy of mention is the rather erotic Veiled Venus by Kuhne Beveridge and her mother Ella von Werde, decadent work of 1900. More statues are in the separate Sculpture Gallery and Henry Moore Institute, of which the Epstein portraits are not to be missed.

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Leeds Sculpture pages // Sculpture in Headrow etc, outside Art Gallery

Victorian art in Britain

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