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Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight
 

The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Wirral, by William & Segar Owen (now, since William's death in 1910, in the hands of Segar and his younger Geoffrey Owen). Designed in 1913, this was built in 1914-22: it took a long time because of the war (Hubbard and Shippobottom 40). Reinforced concrete clad in Portland stone. It was natural for Lord Leverhulme to turn again, for this very special building, to the architectural partnership to which he felt "indebted for the quiet grace and beauty of the earliest buildings in the village" (10). The art gallery was indeed brilliantly planned so as not to loom over the village with those earlier, picturesque homes in their vernacular styles — though its true scale is easily appreciated from this viewpoint.

Portrait of Lord Leverhulme's wife Elizabeth, by Sir Luke Fildes, which hangs in the gallery (courtesy of the Liverpool Museums).

Like the church, the gallery was a gift to the village from its founder, Lord Leverhulme, but this time in memory of his wife, who died in 1913. Leverhulme himself worked closely with the architects. The result was a dignified and impressive neoclassical monument set apart in style from the rest of the village, proclaiming the elevating influence that Leverhulme himself ascribed to art. As if to link it to the era that gave birth to Port Sunlight, the gallery was opened at the end of 1922 by Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice. It is surely, not just "perhaps," the "grandest building in the village" (Curl 174).

Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

View from the front: the west entrance, with the Leverhulme Memorial in the foreground.

The front entrance, with its urns, elegant engaged columns, balustrade and sculptural decorations and insignia, is particularly impressive. But nothing is too elaborate or showy, though. The whole building has been aptly described as a "chaste and lovely treasure box of a building" (Hubbard and Shippobottom 40).

 

Right: The long main, top-lit gallery. Left: Looking up into one of the flanking domes.

The interior may not be as convenient as it might have been (see Hartwell et al. 536), but the long main hall makes an impact. On the far left of the picture of it, taken not much more than halfway down its full length, is Onslow Ford's beautiful Snowdrift in its glass case. Leverhulme liked the New Sculpture, so it features largely in his collection, but there are many other masterpieces here, including Millais's Apple Blossoms. Sculpture is shown off very effectively under the domes, and furniture, fireplaces and so on are nicely housed in the smaller galleries. The fireplace shown below (photographed at the gallery, with permission) is one removed from Moor Park in Hertfordshire, which Leverhulme had bought as an investment. The dancing figures on the frieze are a version of an original Italian design, the sort of work that the young John Flaxman might have been doing when he was working for Wedgwood. It is easy to see why the gallery has been called a "treasure box."

Related Material

References

"Artwork Details: About the Artwork." National Museums Liverpool. Web. 8 September 2013.

Curl, James Stevens. Victorian Architecture. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1990. Print.

Hartwell, Clare, Matthew Hyde, Edward Hubbard and Nikolaus Pevsner. Cheshire. The Buildings of England series. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2011.

"Lady Lever Art Gallery, Wirral." British Listed Buildings. Web. 8 September 2013.

Lever, W. H. Paper Read by W. H. Lever, at a Meeting of the Architctural Association, London, March 21st, 1902. Internet Archive. Web. 8 September 2013.

 
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Last modified 8 September 2013