Each December we count down the days to Christmas with the National Museums Liverpool advent calendar. There’s a different surprise from our collections and exhibitions behind each door, with a new theme each year. Throughout 2018 we have been involved with a number of special events in our museums and across the city of Liverpool to mark 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women over the age of 30 the right to vote for the first time. So to celebrate the end of this significant year, we felt that a fitting theme for this year’s advent calendar would be women.
Naturally, I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises hidden behind the doors on the advent calendar, but I can tell you that there are some remarkable stories of a variety of pioneering women from across the ages, including scientists, artists and trailblazers, both from Liverpool and further afield. There will be names that you know and some that you are less familiar with, including a few surprises from our stores and archives which are not usually on display.
So don’t forget to open our advent calendar at www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/advent each day from 1 to 24 December.
If you can’t wait until December to find out about some of the inspiring women in our collections, then you can always visit the Taking liberties: women’s suffrage in Liverpool display at the Museum of Liverpool (don’t worry – it doesn’t contain any spoilers, we have plenty of other great stories to share with you!) Or take a look at the Christmas pages on our website for details of our free events, opening hours over the holidays, Christmas dining, gift ideas and more to get you in the festive spirit.
28 September 2018 by Ann
The Lady Lever Art Gallery was named in memory of Lord Lever’s wife Elizabeth and was built to house an art collection to share with Lever’s soap factory workers. It’s always been about community and inclusion and today is no different. It’s not uncommon for us to hear parents say they don’t think the gallery is for them as they fear they’ll be too noisy or it’ll go over the kids’ heads. We’d like to shout from the top of our beautiful glass domes that we love noise, creativity and little ones and we’d love you to come and visit! Read more…
3 September 2018 by Felicity
Here at the Walker, we’ve been working on something exciting with the Wirral-based artist, Leo Fitzmaurice…
Leo will create an assembly of portraits at the Gallery as part of a new exhibition, which asks us to look twice at what might, at first, seem familiar. Leo Fitzmaurice: Between You and Me and Everything Else (29 September 2018 to 17 March 2019) will include artworks from the Arts Council Collection and National Museums Liverpool’s own collection.
More than 30 portraits by artists including Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Milena Dragicevic, Ken Kiff, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky and Philip Sutton will feature in the exhibition, which takes place in Room 9 at the Gallery. Read more…
As a volunteer at the Walker Art Gallery, I have been helping Exhibition Curator, Alex Patterson, to digitise works related to the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, currently on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This exhibition explores the role that James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell played in the Etching Revival (1830-1940) in Britain. It also shows how their contemporaries, such as Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), Charles Méryon (1821-1868), and William Strang (1859-1921), were influenced by their art.
One of the etchings that really caught my interest was Breaking Up of the Agamemnon by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, which was one of three works by him included in the exhibition. It shows a large hulk of a vessel being demolished. The vessel is HMS Agamemnon, the Royal Navy battleship moored at the Naval Arsenal at Deptford on the River Thames, seen against the setting sun. Launched in 1852, the 230-feet long Agamemnon was one of the most intimidating of all wooden warships and the first British steam-powered flagship. The Agamemnon saw action in many battles, including the Crimean War, and was the predecessor of iron-hulled ships, which were introduced in the 1860s.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon reminded me of another etching, Breaking Up of the Great Eastern, No 2 (1890) by Sir Frank Short (1857-1945), also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. I came across the etching when I was researching scenes of Liverpool Docks. Both ships had illustrious histories, and I felt that the images of their breaking up expressed a deep sense of loss and sorrow.
Haden’s etching of the Agamemnon was a spontaneous response to what he saw on the Thames one day in July 1870, but it became the most important subject of his career, which he continued to work on over the next 16 years.
Early in 1870 the art scholar, artist and etcher Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) asked Haden to etch a plate to be published in the first edition of his new art journal, The Portfolio (1870-1893). The journal, named after a folder in which collectors often kept valuable prints, championed etching as original art, rather than a reproductive medium. This concept played an instrumental role in the British etching revival during the second half of the 19th century. Haden, like the French Impressionists, always tried to work directly from life, and for this purpose, he always carried prepared copper plates wherever he went. He drew directly onto the plate to capture the movement of the light and its reflections in the sky, clouds, and water. The demolition of the Agamemnon may not have been a traditional subject for a study of ambiance, but Haden must have been entranced by its grandeur and spectacle.
In a letter to Hamerton, dated July 3, 1870, Haden wrote of the Agamemnon etching: “. . . I had thought of making the sun set behind the old hulk and the distant cupolas of Greenwich and of using the sinking luminary as typical of the departing glories of both . . . .” This shows that Haden indeed drew the initial sketch for Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 directly onto the copper plate. The sun is setting between the ship and Greenwich, conveying a poignant majestic reference to the glorious history of the Agamemnon. The rays of the setting sun rippling through the clouds are echoed on the stirring water in the foreground. Named after Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae who led the united Greek army to the Trojan War, the ship proudly displays the figurehead wearing a Roman centurion’s plumed helmet pointing towards the sun. The Agamemnon almost appears as if ready to set sail once again into the distant horizon. Although she is now tethered to a much smaller barge, with her ribs exposed and only one of three masts standing, the Agamemnon still looks magnificent. The image highlights the ship’s immense scale and power, but it also conveys a sense an ending.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon was a very complex project for Haden. He said he had “never undertook a more perplexing job.” The initial spontaneity of etching was followed by many attempts at adding and deleting small details throughout the composition, resulting in 11 states (versions of the print) being made in total. However, the main image of the ship against a shimmering evening sun remained largely unchanged.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 was an artistic and commercial success. The plate was unfortunately too large to be printed in The Portfolio and instead was later published by Frederick Goulding, and sold through Colnaghi’s, bringing Haden a huge financial reward. The plate was so popular that he produced a second version of the subject Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 2 (1886) in mezzotint.
As for the etching Haden promised to Hamerton for the first edition of The Portfolio Hamerton instead selected another of Haden’s prints, entitled A Brig at Anchor (1870), which is also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. He etched it from nature by moonlight on the Thames.
To discover more about the art of etching and to enjoy Haden’s intricate works at first hand don’t miss Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 7 October and the fascinating video made by Liverpool John Moores University School of Art and Design explaining the process of etching.
3 July 2018 by Ann
Tanabata, or Star Festival, is traditionally held on the evening of the 7 July in Japan, but can continue throughout August. This year we are celebrating Tanabata day at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in the Family Activity Rooms on Saturday from 1-4pm.
The Festival traces its origins to a romantic legend that the Weaver Star (Vega) and the Cowherd Star (Altair), had been separated by a god of the sky, called ‘Tentei’, and only permitted to reunite once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month.
According to legend, the two stars fell in love and married but were cast apart by the bride’s angry father, because the bride was so much in love that she neglected her weaving of shoes or cloth. Read more…
28 June 2018 by Ann
Takeover Day is a celebration of children and young people’s contributions to museums, galleries, arts organisations, archives and heritage sites. It’s a day on which they are given meaningful roles, working alongside staff and volunteers to participate in the life of the museum. This year the pupils of Bolton School, from art gallery founder William Hesketh Lever’s hometown in Lancashire will takeover the Lady Lever Art Gallery on Sunday 1 July.
Students from year groups across the school have planned a day of music, drama, craft and creative celebration as part of their ongoing Leverhulme Festival.
15 June 2018 by Alex Patterson
For a curator the best part of any exhibition, is the first time you properly look at the objects. This is a time when you can make discoveries and investigate objects beyond their normal scope. When I first began work on the Whistler & Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, Keith our paper conservator analysed the condition of the prints. In doing so, he noticed a wonderful watermark on the paper used for James McNeill Whistler’s prints (1834-1903). It is a beautiful design with a central beehive motif surrounded by ornate scrollwork of leaves and flowers crowned with a fruit tree. It also shows the initials DEDB. I immediately wanted to learn more about where this paper came from and why it was used for Whistler’s prints so I could include it in the exhibition and share it with our visitors. This is what I found!
Apparently Whistler was very selective about what paper was used for his etchings. This wasn’t at all unusual; the etching revival had instigated a new interest in the aesthetic tone and structure of paper. Modern paper made in the early 19th century could be highly acidic and appear bright white after the introduction of wood pulp and chlorine bleaches into the paper-making process. Laid paper was also gradually replaced with wove paper which had a more even surface. Whistler, and indeed most printers, refused to use such paper as it affected the overall tone and aesthetic of the work. The modern paper created too much of a contrast between the inks and the white background. Also wove paper did not hold the ink in the same way as laid paper.
Following Rembrandt’s example, Whistler like most etchers’ and printers preferred to use ‘Old Dutch’ or silky Japanese paper. Throughout his life Whistler constantly searched stationers and old book shops looking for it, as large quantities could still be found in London, Paris and Amsterdam. Made from boiled and beaten rags, drained on wire moulds, ‘Old Dutch’ paper was high quality with a ribbed texture and creamy in colour. Japanese paper was alternatively made from the bark of a mulberry tree; it could vary in thickness and tone from pale cream to a pronounced yellow. These types of paper could be identified by their unique watermark.
A watermark is design or motif that is caused by thickness variations created by the wire mould when shaping the paper. The ‘beehive’ watermark that we found on Whistler’s print’s, shown in transmitted light, is not the mark of ‘Old Dutch’ papermakers as I originally thought, but it can be traced to Holland.
The ‘beehive’ watermark is associated with the Honig (honey) family of Dutch papermakers who owned mills in Zaandijk, North Holland. The coat of arms was widely copied throughout the Netherlands and came to represent Dutch papermaking more generally. Whistler’s ‘beehive’ watermark is a variation belonging to the De Erven de Blauw papermakers from the 1820s, which explains the initials DEDB within the design (there were alternate versions of the De Erven de Blauw watermark also shown)
We would have never known that these watermarks existed on the Walker Art gallery’s prints before as they are not visible under normal lighting conditions, it was crucial to photograph our findings through transmitted light to document the work. This research and photographs of all the prints which contain the watermark are permanently available for everyone to view on Watermark, our online collection of works on paper.
2 May 2018 by Ann
We’re preparing to bring a little bit of city life to Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Art Gallery this week as we countdown to the opening of our spring exhibition Whistler & Pennell: Etching the city on Friday 4 May.
Profiling the work of American artists; James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell who made London their home, the exhibition reveals their passion, innovation and influence upon an artistic technique that at the time was in decline.