Hidden Treasure Trail 8 - The People's Museum In Liverpool

By Caroline Lewis | 15 May 2006
People's Museum logo

Welcome to the Hidden Treasure Trails on Culture24, exploring the hidden treasures of the People’s Museum.

The BBC TV series People’s Museum explores the most fascinating objects on show at museums all over the country and asks the viewer to vote for their favourites - what they would put on display in a museum. A masterful portrait, a scientific first, or perhaps a touching journal? It's up to the people!

And When Did You Last See Your Father?, the Victorian painting once present in millions of British homes has already made it in to the virtual museum. Will any more of Liverpool’s treasures follow suit?

Culture24 is revisiting the featured venues and more, taking another look at at some of the amazing artefacts also featured in the People's Museum programme.

We have arranged them into region-by-region trails. Read on to discover some of Liverpool’s rich collections and surprising finds – we hope it inspires you to get out there and visit them for yourself.

We visit the Lady Lever art gallery in Port Sunlight, which has loads of classic Wedgwood pottery plus some surprisingly ornate commodes. The Walker Art Gallery features some of the north’s finest art from the renaissance onwards while visitors can go back to the time of the monasteries at Norton Priory.

photo of a fireplace with an ornate white and green surround

A Wedgewood fire surround. Courtesy the Lady Lever Gallery

The Lady Lever Art Gallery was founded in 1922 by the first Lord Leverhulme in memory of his wife. The gallery holds an outstanding collection of Wedgwood Jasperware, as well as beautiful 18th and 19th century British paintings and decorative arts - its portrait of Lord Leverhulme is in the running for inclusion in the People's Museum.

Everybody knows about the pretty Wedgwood vases and plates in sky blue and pale green with white reliefs that were so popular in the 18th century. Titled Jasperware by its inventor Josiah Wedgwood, its classical motifs appealed to the fashion for Roman and Greek antiquities. The desirable pieces were suitably expensive, and it would have been a very rich person who could have afforded an entire jasperware fire-surrounds. Out of four complete surrounds of this type known to survive, the Lady Lever has three.

Lord Leverhulme was also keen on late 18th century furniture, collecting the grandest commodes he could lay his hands on as part of an attempt to document British cabinet-making at its best. Some of the most ornate furniture on show is a sculpted Italian suite said to have been presented by Napoleon to his uncle, Cardinal Fesch, in the early 1800s.

painting of a Renaissance era family eating at a table with a young man and woman paying attention to each other

Lorenzo and Isabella by Millais. Courtesy the Walker

The Walker Art Gallery is the foremost institution for art in the North, with works from the Renaissance right through to contemporary art.

Like the Lady Lever, it has in its possession fine sculpture and furniture. Dating from around 1700, a star exhibit and example of intricate Baroque decorative arts is a Polish cabinet made of amber panels with carved ivory.

John Gibson’s Tinted Venus, created in the 1850s, was one of the first works that revived the Greek practice of painting sculpture. It was given a mixed reception by critics, but is now a proud possession of the Walker Gallery.

Received with all-round good humour, on the other hand, was the gallery’s recently acquired Loophonium – a combination of tuba and toilet invented by Fritz Spiegl.

Pre-Raphaelite lovers should head straight for John Everett Millais’ painting Lorenzo and Isabella. Undertaken when the artist was only 19-years-old, the work depicts the fated lovers Isabella and Lorenzo from Keats’ poem.

photo of an ornate cabinet with amber and ivory decorations

Polish amber cabinet. Courtesy The Walker

Liverpool Museums’ numerous treasures require a high standard of care. The specialists at the Conservation Centre look after all the collections of the city’s national museums. It contains the magnificent cathedral model by Sir John Lutyens, up for nomination to the People's Museum. In addition, the centre at the former Midland Railway Goods Depot is open to the public to learn about the art of conservation. There are varied temporary exhibitions, too.

Take the Mersey upstream from Liverpool and you’ll come to Norton Priory and Gardens near Runcorn whose statue of St Christopher is one of the nominees at the People's Museum. Amidst the medieval cloisters of this Gulbenkian Prize nominated site, visitors can learn about the lives of its monastic inhabitants and the Brooke family who moved in later.

Shows a photograph of a bizarre musical instrument, which is made up of a tuba attached upside down to the u-bend of a toilet adorned with painted flowers and patterns. The toilet seat appears to be made of wood and has three strings held taught across the top as if it is a harp.

The Loophonium, invented by Fritz Spiegl. Courtesy the Walker Gallery

More museums with fascinating collections to be found in Liverpool…

Liverpool has played a crucial role as a port for centuries, so it’s just as well it has a good museum to tell the story of its seafarers. As well as exhibits on Transatlantic Slavery and the Battle of the Atlantic, Merseyside Maritime Museum has lots of Titanic memorabilia.

University of Liverpool Museum of Dentistry has one of the world’s most important collections of early dentures!

Prescot Museum in Knowsley bears out the area’s famous connection with horology – that is, watch and clock making.

Click here to go to the BBC People's Museum website and find out more about the featured objects.

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The Hidden Treasure Trails have been produced for The Campaign for Museums by Culture24 with support from the Foyle Foundation.

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