The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Statues of Michaelangelo and Raphael outside the Walker Art Gallery by J. Warrington Wood.

The impetus for an art gallery in Liverpool came in the early 1870s, when the Corporation of Liverpool's art collection became too large to be accommodated in the Liverpool Free Public Library and Museum, and when more space was needed for the popular Autumn Exhibitions of current paintings in the town. Many local ratepayers were anxious about the concept of themselves paying for a gallery to be built, and opposed it. However, a public meeting in 1893 was able to raise some 7,000 pounds towards the project. Shortly afterwards, on his election as Mayor, A. B. Walker announced that he himself would pay the entire cost of building a gallery and present it to the city. The Walker Art Gallery opened in 1877, and when five years later an extension was added, again Walker insisted on paying the entire cost. All together, Walker paid out a total of up to 60,000, a great act of philanthropy.

The collection is strong on Pre-Raphaelite pictures, and together with the not-far-off Lady Lever Gallery, Port Sunlight, represents one of the greatest concentration of their works. Certainly, a visit to the Walker can be accompanied by a visit to the Lady Lever Gallery on the same day, as the local metro goes directly. Among important pictures, Rossetti has Dante's Dream (1871) and The Bower Meadow, Millais has Lorenzo and Isabella (1849) - one of the first Pre-Raphaelite paintings - and Holman Hunt has Rienzi (1849) and The Awakening Concience (1852). There is also The Stonebreaker (1858) by John Brett, and the large Sponsa de Libano (1891) by Burne-Jones. Also works by the Liverpool artist William Windus, including his important Too Late.

In a sympathetic vein, there are works by Marie Spartali Stillman, Arthur Hacker, Val Prinsep and Henry Holiday's version of Dante and Beatrice.

Lord Leighton has Perseus and Andromeda and Elijah in the Wilderness (1879), and other noteworthy religious pictures include Solomon Solomon's excellent Samson and Delilah and P. H. Calderon's Ruth and Naomi. G. F. Watts has a whole series of paintings. Other important Victorian paintings include W. F. Yeames's And When did You last see your Father? and Frederick Goodall's A New Light in the Hareem. The collection is strong on pictures with contemporary social themes, and Herkomer's Eventide and Frederick Brown's Hard Times may be mentioned. Landscape is another strength, with oils by Turner, Constable, Creswick and David Roberts, and watercolours by W. Hunt, Birket Foster and T. Sidney Cooper. There are marine paintings by Napier Hemy, Stanhope Forbes and J. Aumonier.

There are three works by Edwin Landseer, and also The Eve of the Battle of Edge Hill by his brother Charles Landseer, supposedly that artist's best work. Interestingly, the dogs in that picture were painted by Edwin, but an enterprising dealer contrived to cut out these dogs and replace them with painted copies before selling on the painting. Unfortunately the Liverpool Corporation only discovered this substitution after purchasing the picture.

There is a fine sculpture collection, with work by Canova, Thorvaldsen and earlier masters, and a strong showing of Victorian work on permanent display. John Gibson has his key work The Tinted Venus, The Three Graces, Flora, and other works, and there is a copy of his group Psyche and the Zephyrs by his brother Benjamin Gibson. Among many portrait busts, there is one of John Gibson himself, by a pupil of his, John Adams-Acton. Joseph Durham is represented by Florizel and Perdita, and B. E. Spence by two important works, Psyche at the Well and Highland Mary. Onslow Ford has a bronze of an ideal girl, Peace, very beautiful, Albert Toft has a symbolist nude Fate-led, and A. G. Walker has a group of Adam and Eve. Among other highlights are a series of works by Giovanni Fontana, a pupil of Thorvaldsen who became permanently based in England, a Nymph preparing for the bath by R. J. Wyatt, and works by Emil Fuchs. Finally, among many other works, we must note the bust of the founder A. B. Walker by Warrington Wood, who also made the large Raphael and Michaelangelo standing outside (see top of this page).

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Liverpool pages

Outside the gallery in William Brown Street // St George's Hall and St John's Gardens // Walk along Dale Street

Victorian art in Britain