A Liverpool Gem: The Walker Art Gallery

In the twentieth century Liverpool became renowned for its contribution to modern music with the emergence of the “Mersey Beat”, and more particularly as home to the Beatles, who took the world by storm during the 1960’s. However, it is a city with a rich history, which owed its wealth and expansion to trade, enjoying the advantage of an industrial hinterland that stretched through Lancashire and beyond, and easy access to routes westward giving access to the raw materials and produce of the West Indies and the Americas. Wealth derived from the import of cotton, sugar and other goods, and the export of manufactured items such as linen, was invested in creating a city significant for its Victorian architecture, but was also in philanthropic endeavors to enhance the cultural life of its citizens, amongst which was the Walker Art Gallery, a grand neo-classical building in the heart of the city that opened its doors in 1877.
As the national gallery for the north of England, the Walker holds important special exhibitions each year. Often it supplements exhibitions by borrowing works from other galleries on an international basis, but with important works in their own collection from those as diverse as Tintoretto, Poussin, Reynolds, Nash, Rossetti, Monet, Millet, Degas, Cezanne, Rubens, Turner, Hockney and Freud, to name but a few, there is also a high demand for loans to other galleries; and with all those valuable works of art moving around, hopefully they have a good deal on courier insurance.
Examples of excellence
As is evident from some of the names already mentioned, the Walker collection spans art history, and it would take far more room than is available here to review just the most significant pictures on show.  However, importantly the Gallery has always continued to acquire new works from fresh talent, and an overview of the best acquisitions from the modern art period may give some idea of the quality of the collection.
Having made their way through the grand entrance, past the sculpture gallery and up to the first floor, visitors will find that in addition to the special exhibitions space there are fifteen rooms displaying the permanent collection. Room 11 is devoted to British works from 1880 through to 1950, whilst Rooms 12-15 house exhibits from the second half of the twentieth century through to the present.
Amongst the highlights of Room 11 are:
  • ‘Vespers’ – Which John Singer Sargent painted during his time in Corfu.
  • ‘The Fever Van’ – by L S Lowry, which as with nearly all his works, reflects the urban backdrop to his life in industrial Salford, and depicts the impact on society of illness and disease in the pre-penicillin age.
  • ‘Landscape of the Moon’s last phase’ - Paul Nash’ mystical work painted  during the Second World War is also striking, depicting an ancient and settled rural setting that acts as a counterpoint to times in which it was painted.
1950 to Present
The post war collection is also impressive, and the major works include:
  • ‘Interior at Paddington’ -  Lucien Freud’s unnerving and deliberately drab interior portrait, which employs the grey atmosphere of post-war London as a veil to opaquely draw attention to the social and political nervousness that prevailed in Europe in that period.
  • ‘Pin Up 1963 – For Francis Bacon’ – Sam Walsh’s tribute to the iconic painter, whose unconventional and chaotic life style as well as his work, made him a figure of fascination to many younger artists developing their ‘Pop art’ techniques.
  • ‘Alesso B’ – Michael Tyzack’s classic 1960’s mood piece, using both vibrant color and implied movement to create a response in the viewer.
  • ‘Cow Mutation’ - Tim Head’s Much reproduced black and white work that plays with the concept of the ‘magic eye’ pictures, and provokes thoughts about the place of the individual within the anonymous herd.
  • 'Super Star Fucker Andy Warhol Text Painting' – Peter Davies award winning work which mind maps his thinking in regard to the contribution to art made by the godfather of the ‘Pop Art’ movement.
  • 'Peter Getting Out of Nick's Pool' – One of David Hockney’s swimming pool pictures is perhaps the star of the show. Its sense of warmth, color and light, and its homoerotic imagery reflect the artist’s flirtation with a California lifestyle of freedom and opulence that contrasted sharply with the repressed provincial attitudes, and drabness he experienced in his youth and young adulthood.
Those who choose to visit the gallery will discover delights not only  in the sections devoted to the modern period, but in every era of art represented, and they should perhaps set aside several hours or plan a return visit if they are to fully appreciate all that there is on offer.

This article by guest writer, Christina Hart 

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