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Shows & Events

Shunned, the Pre-Raphaelites turned to Liverpool

Liverpool collectors were among Ford Madox Brown’s most devoted patrons: Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, 1852-56.  © Tate, London 2015

In 1851, the Pre-Raphaelites were besieged. An exhibition of their work at the Royal Academy in London had been panned by the Times. According to the newspaper, the artists’ detailed, academic style expressed “an aversion to beauty” and “an absolute contempt for perspective”.

But in Liverpool, there was a bright spot. Local collectors, including the ship-owner Frederick Leyland and the banker George Rae, were among the most devoted patrons of the painters Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the Liverpool Academy offered the artists a welcome venue.

Yet “nobody has thought to look at why Liverpool was so receptive” to the artists, says the art historian Christopher Newall, the curator of Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion at the Walker Art Gallery, the first exhibition to explore the city’s role in the movement.

The artists were sustained by the city’s booming economy. Top patrons such as Leyland and Rae, whose backstories are fleshed out for the first time in the catalogue, “had no counterpart in any other British city”, Newall says, adding that “Liverpool is quite happy to diverge from the London-led pattern, even to this day.”

The show brings together more than 120 paintings from across the UK by artists including Brown and Rossetti and their Liverpool-based contemporaries, such as William Davis and Daniel Alexander Williamson.

The exhibition has no sponsor. Sotheby’s, among others, has supported the catalogue.

• Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 12 February-5 June
Venue details
Walker Art Gallery
William Brown Street
Liverpool L3 8EL
United Kingdom

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