Unsettled at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

Port Sunlight has always been one of those places where we’ve always intended going but never actually made it. But we finally did make it on Tuesday. I won’t bother describing the village as Michael has already made an excellent job of it here. We specifically wanted to visit the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

The Gallery was founded by William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) and is dedicated to the memory of his wife Elizabeth. Lever mostly collected British art but he was also fascinated by Chinese porcelain, Roman sculpture and Greek vases. He collected them to show the styles that had most influenced British artists and designers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The gallery contains the best of his personal art collection.

According to the website: “The gallery’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings is world famous.” Unfortunately, I am not a great fan of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I think its the pouts on the ladies! Nevertheless, there were several other paintings I liked, such as “On his holidays” by John Singer Sargent.

I associate John Singer Sargent with portraits of society ladies. The label stated that “Sargent went on holiday to Norway in 1901 with the McCullogh family. The father, George MuCullogh, … was the single most important collector of late Victorian painting. … His son Alexander … is here relaxing from salmon fishing in a mood of thoughtful melancholy. Delight in the descriptive power of dazzling free brushwork, and the light and colour it can create is rare in British art; here it is achieved with a marvellous economy of means by an American artist under the influence of French impressionism.” Unfortunately my photograph does not capture the “free brushwork” or “the influence of French impressionism” but they were there.

Elsewhere, I was reminded of another of Michael’s posts. He wrote about Eric Gill whose sexual practices made Michael “feel very unsettled.” The sculptures which had a similar effect on me were by Edward Onslow Ford, a leading light of New Sculpture movement.

The label for his sculpture of Echo said: “Onslow Ford specialised in ideal figures of thin and graceful adolescent girls, often possessing a delicate and melancholy charm.”

Echo by Edward Onslow Ford

Another of his sculptures was called “Snowdrift” and again featured a naked young girl.

“Snowdrift” by Edward Onslow Ford

The sculptures themselves are fine works. It is the creation of them that I find unsettling. When I went to see the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy at the end of last year, there were a some nude studies which he had done for his (clothed) sculpture “Petite Danseuse de 14 ans”. Many things have changed over the last century. Are we wrong to make judgements based on current morality?

On a slightly lighter note, but in a similar vein, there was a painting of Andromeda  by William Etty (1787-1849).

Andromeda by William Etty

I had to smile at the information board accompanying the picture:

“Etty’s reputation suffered from his preoccupation with the female nude, chiefly on account of paintings such as this. It was probably painted as a study from the model in the life class at the Royal Academy. Etty’s regular attendance at the class, even when he was a senior Academician, aroused widespread comment, and his subsequent addition of chains – in order to elevate the figure into the classical figure of Andromeda, who was left chained to a rock as a victim for a dragon* – cannot be said to have had the precise effect intended.”

* – I thought it was a sea monster.

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About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
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7 Responses to Unsettled at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

  1. seascapesaus says:

    Andromeda looks as though she was painted in two stages and the head is an afterthought. I could say more, but think I will rest my case (!)

  2. ms6282 says:

    thanks for the mentions John.

    The Victorian era was a period of hypocriscy in many ways – especially with respect to human realations. I think a lot of Victorian art is meant for sexually frustrated men. And Mr Etty seems to be an extreme example.

  3. Nancy Farmer says:

    I think a previous commenter has it right: the painting is basicly a huge pair of breasts, with a head popped in on top! Yes, it was a seamonster… perhaps she scared him off! 😀

  4. Thank you for all your comments. I have no problem with Etty or anyone else, painting models with big boobs. My problem was with the age of Onslow Ford’s models, and, possibly, with applying the morality of one age on artists from another age.

  5. clinock says:

    This art is not up my alley at all but your write-up and thoughts are excellent as always…

  6. No, I’m not generally keen on Victorian painting either, but I did like the Singer Sargent work. The rest were illustrations to the discussion.

  7. Ketrin1407 says:

    The novelactivist.com blog (with which I’m not directly affiliated) has some interesting observations on the perceived morality of nude children in art. My own flickr postings include lots of nude statues, including Ford’s, of both adult and adolescent subjects.

    BTW, what’s the point of including links from your images when they only link to the image files that are already on the page? I thought the whole point of doing that was to link to BIGGER versions.

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