Harris Art Gallery, Preston

The Harris Art Gallery, from a 1900s photo.

Edmund Robert Harris, a wealthy solicitor, on his death left 300,000 pounds for the benefit of his home town of Preston in Lancashire. Most of this money went to the building of the Harris Free Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, a great block of a building dominating the main square in Preston, which opened in 1893. The architect was James Hibbert of Preston. The interior is a tall quadrangular hall 120 ft high, with balconies and galleries decorated with murals (by John Somerscales, after G. F. Watts turned down the commission due to age and suggested choosing a young artist) showing Egyptian and Greek themes. The exterior has fine and ambitious pediment sculptures by Edwin Roscoe Mullins. The main subject is Pericles, surrounded by artists, poets, philosophers and rhetoricians, in keeping with the purpose of the building.

The collection of paintings occupies two floors of the building, and is interesting in that it contains works by some otherwise neglected Victorian artists. These pictures came from purchases by the Corporation of Preston, and from a series of bequests by wealthy locals, the most important of which was the Richard Newsham Bequest of 1883.

Cupid's Garden by J. W. Waterhouse has the characteristic Waterhouse girl, and equally typical is J. F. Lewis's painting In the Bey's Garden, a mix of Orientalist subject with Pre-Raphaelite minutely recorded detail. By H. J. Draper is The Ebb, a coastal seascape which is adequate enough but disappointing for fans of this artist. There are works by W. H. Hunt, famed for his birds' nests and much approved of by Ruskin, and a drawing of Antwerp Cathedral by David Roberts. Other pictures of greater or lesser importance are by T. C. Gotch, David Farquharson, A. Chevalier Taylor, Lord Leighton, E. A. Abbey, Laslett J. Pott, George Clausen, William Powell Frith, Arnesby Brown and Arthur Rackham.

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Victorian art in Britain

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