11 January 2017 by Alex Patterson
Victorian Treasures is a new exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery featuring some of the world’s most famous 19th– and early 20th– century Pre-Raphaelite and Romantic paintings. It’s been a long time in the making and has traveled thousands of miles already – from Liverpool to Japan and back….
Originally put together as a touring exhibition, Victorian Treasures brings together 66 outstanding Victorian paintings and watercolours from the art collections of National Museums Liverpool. The freelance art historian and curator Christopher Newall helped select the artworks, and the exhibition toured four major cities in Japan in 2015 and 2016. The artworks returned in the spring of 2016 and we were eager to slot the exhibition into our own programme as soon as we could. My role as lead curator on this Liverpool show has been to transform Victorian Treasures into a showcase, highlighting these beautiful pictures for the Walker Art Gallery’s visitors.
Japan’s take on the exhibition was bold and beautiful. The Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo displayed the paintings amidst some amazing contemporary colours such as pink, apple green, orange and lilac. The artworks looked far different from how you would imagine a Victorian inspired display to look. Back at the Walker we plan to experiment with quite regal shades to complement the deep reds, greens, blues and yellows in the paintings.
I really enjoyed learning about Victorian art and writing the interpretation for the exhibition and wanted to share this research with the Walkers visitors and tell the amazing stories behind the paintings. The Victorian era marked an important change in the way we use and view art. The rising middle class were newly prosperous and for the first time they were able to buy art. They viewed it from a fresh perspective and filled their large houses with works that would challenge and inspire them. The art of the period reveals a lot about the Victorians and their drive to create a better life for themselves. It’s been fascinating for me reading more about the period and the collections.
National Museums Liverpool owes its amazing Victorian art collections to the successful merchants and businessmen who donated much of their wealth to the city. George Holt, previous owner of Sudley House in Mossley Hill and William Hesketh Lever, founder of the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, made particularly generous contributions. The Walker Art Gallery takes it name from the brewer Andrew Barclay Walker, who gave money to create the gallery. These are the stories we want to tell our visitors and really highlight the fantastic collections of all three of NML’s world renowned art galleries.
You can now view the highlights from the Victorian Treasures exhibition online. The exhibition opens 27 January and art historian and curator Christopher Newall will be giving a public talk on the same day at 1pm.
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