1 March 2016 by Lucy Nixon
As the Lady Lever Art Gallery prepares to swing open the doors to its brand new South End galleries later this month, I decided to take a look back at the history behind the gallery itself and the royal links that make it one of Merseyside’s most interesting buildings.
With its founding stone laid by none other than King George V in 1914 and its formal opening carried out by Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice in 1922, the Lady Lever is well connected when it comes to rubbing shoulders with royalty.
Dedicated to the memory of founder William Hesketh Lever’s wife Elizabeth, the Gallery was originally a place for Lever to share his vast personal art collection with the public.
With personally selected works of art from his own collection as well as pieces that he bought specifically for the Gallery, Lever was determined to cater to all tastes, making this a gallery for all ages.
It’s this ethos that still remains today at the Lady Lever, where family events and community interaction are core to its popularity.
Lever’s collection, the majority of which are on display at the Gallery, goes further than the average art fan’s, with over 20,000 works of art.
Although he mostly collected British art, his fascination with Chinese porcelain also stands out of the Gallery today.
With over 166 Chinese snuff bottles and one of the finest collections of Chinese porcelain in Europe, it’s perhaps no wonder that the Gallery has been alive over the past few weeks with celebrations for Chinese New Year.
Chinese dragons snaked round the Gallery rooms and the traditional Chinese ‘Lucky Man’ was on hand to offer visitors good fortune. With calligraphy classes and traditional story telling, I wonder if Lever could have ever imagined that the Gallery would be such a community hub today. As visitors took part in a lantern parade around the Gallery, the Lady Lever was alight with colour and excitement.
As the opening date nears for the newly restored South End galleries, the Lady Lever is set to enter a brand new phase which is likely to see the Gallery welcome both familiar faces and new groups of visitors, all eager to explore the collections in new and exciting ways.
The Heritage Lottery Funded regeneration project has seen the interior architecture of the Sound End of the Gallery returned to its former glory and the vision that was once just an idea in Lever’s mind. With original architraves and glazed doors providing stunning views of Port Sunlight village, the Gallery itself is now just as stunning as the artwork that it houses.
The newly refurbished South End will open to visitors on Good Friday, 25th March 2016, the rest of the Lady Lever Art Gallery remains open. liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/leverplans
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