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Old masters and contemporary art at the Walker

15 May 2009 by Sam

visitors looking at paintings in a gallery

The High Victorian room at the Walker

Here’s the last review of our venues written by visiting art historian Eleanor Beyer from the British Museum’s conservation and science department. In addition to visiting the paper conservation department in the National Conservation Centre, Eleanor had a look round Sudley House and the Lady Lever Art Gallery. We couldn’t really let her go back to London without seeing the Walker as well. Here’s what she thought of it:


“After visiting the National Conservation Centre it was great to go to the Walker to see where the conserved pictures go – some to newly decorated galleries like the sumptuous Georgian style gallery (room 5) which was a perfect setting for the full length Gainsborough and Reynolds portraits. I liked the way Liverpool mixed old and new, with contemporary displays in some of the galleries and old masters in others. The High Victorian gallery (room 8) was also fun, with Edward Burne-Jones’ (1833-1898) painting, ‘Study for The Sleeping Knights’, showing the knights asleep on verdant green vegetation, beautifully offset by the gallery walls.

Having talked to Nicky at the Conservation Centre I could imagine how varied working to care for this sort of collection is. Staff mentioned how complex managing the building can be as well, for instance retaining the past context of the nineteenth century building at the same time as making displays visually appealing to a modern audience. Although much of the building was changed in the 1940s when new galleries were added and improved lighting put in, the museum still retains its character. I particularly enjoyed the sculpture gallery which reminded me of the casts court at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where statues of similar style jostle for space with one another.

I returned to The British Museum thinking of how much galleries in museums have changed since the nineteenth century with better lighting, stimulating gallery events, and with a mix of – often abstract – contemporary art with older pieces. At the British Museum for instance modern objects were displayed next to ancient objects in a recent exhibition in which artists like Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn were invited to contribute. In ‘Living and Dying’ (Room 24, The Wellcome Trust Gallery) the display ranges from a nineteenth century death mask from the Indian Ocean to the recent work ‘Cradle to Grave’ (2003) which consists of lines of pills. Seeing both recent art work and old master’s works offer a different visual experience and interest to visitors.”

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