Pre-Raphaelites go home to Liverpool for major Walker Art Gallery show

By Richard Moss | 11 December 2015

The Pre-Raphaelites' strong connections to Liverpool are explored in a major 2016 exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery

a painting of a flame haired young woman reclining in a meadow
In the Grass, about 1864–5, Arthur Hughes (1832–1915), Exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1865, lent by George Rae© Museums Sheffield
The Pre-Raphaelites may have been a predominantly London-based brethren, but as anyone who has ventured into a gallery outside the capital knows, their success and ongoing popularity owes much to the Victorian collectors of the industrial midlands and the north.

Today many great examples of Pre-Raphaelite art can be found in art galleries and collections in Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, whose Walker Art Gallery is planning a major exhibition exploring the city’s love affair with the medievalism and symbolism of the Pre-Raphs and the collectors whose patronage fuelled them.

Bringing together more than 120 paintings by leading Pre-Raphaelite artists, Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion has been developed with one of the world’s leading Pre-Raphaelite experts, Christopher Newall, and reveals how the Northern art scene rivalled London in Victorian England.

As well as the cast of familiar names from the Pre-Rapahelite stable, including Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and Arthur Hughes, the exhibition highlights some of the Liverpool artists who fell under the spell of Pre-Raphaelitism.

a painting of a man on horseback accompanied on foot by a woman in a singlet
Burd Helen, 1856 William Lindsay Windus (1822–1907), Exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1864. Passed through the collections of John Miller, Frederick Leyland and John Bibby© Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool
Liverpool Pre-Raphaelites

Liverpool was the only provincial town to have its own school of Pre-Raphaelite artists (The Liverpool Academy).

One the principal artists was William Windus, who began exhibiting at the Liverpool Academy in 1845, becoming a member in 1848. In 1851 he visited the Royal Academy in London and reported back “enthusiastically” about Pre-Raphaelites to his fellow artists and to the Liverpool patron, John Miller.

From here the Pre-Raphaelite style began to cast its spell across the painters of the city, with artists like Daniel Alexander Williamson returning to the city after a spell in London, Irish artist William Davis and the “Dickensian Pre-Raphaelite” James Campbell all offering their particular take on the Pre-Raphaelite maxims of truth to nature, abundant detail and complex composition.   

Windus exhibited his new style of painting with the work Burd Helen at the Royal Academy, London in 1856 where it caught the eye of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Ruskin, which helped establish Windus as a respected artist.

a painting of a group of people looking at a coat with a colourful decoration
The Coat of Many Colours (Jacob and Joseph’s Coat), 1866, Ford Madox Brown (1821–93). Commissioned by George Rae in 1864 for 450 gns, and later owned by William Coltart whose widow Eleanor presented it to the Walker Art Gallery in 1904© Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool
Liverpool lens

But beyond the artists of the Liverpool Academy, which also exhibited the works of major Pre-Raphelite artists including Holman Hunt and Ford Madox Brown in its yearly shows, merchants and industrialists in the area added Pre-Raphaelite pictures to their own collections and, over the years, many found their way into public galleries.

The exhibition will also present new research into Pre-Raphaelite painters and collectors in Northern England, through what the gallery says is “the legacy of the glorious artworks they left behind”.

Describing the Pre-Raphaelite movement as “incredibly appealing” Sandra Penketh, Director of Art Galleries at National Museums Liverpool added: “For many years, we’ve planned to tell the story of the Pre-Raphaelites through a Liverpool lens and, with the help of Christopher Newall’s expertise, Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion achieves this.

“As part of the exhibition, we look forward to welcoming Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from across the UK to the Walker, which houses a world-renowned collection of its own.”

Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion is at the Walker Art Gallery from February 12 to June 5. Tickets are £7 with £5 concessions. Under 18s go free.

a painting of a priest holding a book attended by people in medieval clothing
The First Translation of the Bible into English: Wycliffe reading his translation of the New Testament to his protector, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, in presence of Chaucer and Gower, his retainers, 1847–8 Ford Madox Brown (1821–93). Exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1848 © Bradford Art Galleries and Museums, West Yorkshire, UK / Bridgeman Images
a painting of Jesus washing the feet of Peter as the disciples look on disapprovingly
Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, 1852- / 56. Exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1856 as Christ washing Peter’s Feet Presented by subscribers, 1893© Tate, London 2015
a painting of a very thoughtful looking man with beard and robes sitting on a rock in a mountain landscape
Man of Sorrows, about 1860 William Dyce (1806–64)Exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1861 © Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Purchased with the aid of the National Heritage Purchase Grant, (Scotland) 1981
a painting of a red haired woman in a voluminous sleeved garment with golden decoration
Monna Vanna, 1866 Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82) Oil on canvas, 88.9 × 86.4 cm Owned by William Blackmore, then George Rae Purchased with assistance from Sir Arthur Du Cros Btand Sir Otto Beit KCMG through the Art Fund, 1916 © Tate, London 2015
a painting of a young boy in a smock holding a top and whip
The English Boy, 1860 Ford Madox Brown (1821–93). Exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1860© Manchester City Galleries
a study of a group of naked men attacking each other as a group of naked females huddle together
Venus Discordia, 1873 Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98). Owned by Frederick Leyland© Ar fenthyg gan / Lent by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
a painting of a river estuary with a rainbow in the distance
Walton-on-the-Naze, 1860 Ford Madox Brown (1821–93). Exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1860© Birmingham Museums Trust
Explore Pre-Raphaelite collections across the UK with our trail: A Brotherhood of Realism and Romance: The Pre-Raphaelites

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