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The Lady Lever Art Gallery is situated in Port Sunlight Village. On the Wirral peninsular in Merseyside.
Lord Lever opened the Lady Lever Art Gallery in 1922. He named it in memory of his wife. Lever was a philanthropist and patron of the arts. He wanted his huge private collection of art to be available 'To enlighten and uplift' the public. He achieved his aim. It enlightens and uplifts me every time I go there. It remains my favourite Art Gallery. I shall try to explain why.
Lord Lever had already built his model village and named it Port Sunlight, after the soap he manufactured. (Shameless plug here...I have written a seperate review of this fascinating place if you want to know more.) The Art Gallery was to be a centrepiece for the village. Lever asked that the architects rounded the building and keep it low level, in order not to dwarf the housing and dominate it's setting too much. It's a bit like the Tardis when you go in. It seems much bigger on the inside than the outside!
Lord Lever was also a canny businessman and he advertised his products using the art he had bought. This caused friction with a few of the artists because they considered that he was 'prostituting their work'. Lever didn't care much he considered it another way of bringing art to the masses and of course it helped sell his goods. He printed vouchers on the soap he sold that could be exchanged for prints of the more famous paintings held in his collection.
Lord Lever's dedication to make great art freely available, has been rigorously upheld in the Lady Lever. Entrance is still free, as it is in all Merseyside museums. Accessability is taken seriously with all types of disability catered for. It seems that the curators here are willing and able to get you in and look after you well. Ramps and lifts are provided, audio loops for the hard of hearing, guide dogs are welcome and visually impaired are also catered for. All for free. Can't be bad!
The facade of the museum is clad in Portland stone. It's classic design was probably based on many other American galleries being built at the time. It is a lovely building in it's own right and I think it's a really fitting place to show off the many wonderful 18th and 19th century paintings and artefacts if holds.
I have a really soft spot for the Pre Raphaelites and the colection of them at the Lady Lever is the best I have ever seen. I have two favourites. One is 'Sir Isumbras at the ford.' the detail is amazing, the face of the old man reminiscing whilst the little girl gazes up at him is touching. I also love it because Millais couldn't get the horse right! He overpainted it about four times and I like to think of him trying again and again and swearing at the canvas. (Part of me is glad to know that even geniuses get it wrong sometimes!)
The other is Hunt's 'May Morning on Magdalen Tower'. (The clouds have got to be seen to be believed!) It manages to be ethereal and solid at the same time and the choirboys have a very appealing and real mix of earnestness and excitement on their faces.
The problem for me at this gallery is that there is so much to see. There is one picture of two little lads fishing, that you could just look at for ages and still see different things emerging. A lot of the pictures are crammed together and this doesn't make it easy to really look at everything. The richness is extraordinary. Don't go here looking for minimalism because you won't find much of it!
You can be looking at a magnificent table inlayed with hundreds of semi precious stones one minute and the next minute your attention will be grabbed by a beautiful carving of a knight, his armour as bright and detailed as the day it was cast. Or taking in the exhaustion on the face of the sculpted 'Irish Peasant Woman', when your attention is caught by the haughty Roman's sculptures behind her.
We have a group of children over from Chernobyl every year, when we tell them that they are going to a museum their faces fall. Russian museums and art galleries are very different propositions! (Immensely dull for children usually!) Watching their faces as they walk in is fantastic. They always love going to the Lady Lever, to them it is not too big to be intimidating but it is crammed full of interesting and beautiful sights.
To give you more of an idea of the scope of the Lady Lever Gallery, here are some of the collections currently displayed. (Courtesy of their catalogue!)
* Paintings. * Furniture * Chinese * Wedgwood * Classical antiquities
* William Hesketh Lever display * Sculpture, 'New Sculpture' and French Salon sculpture * Tapestries.
I like the way that children are included and involved. Quiz sheets and 'gallery tracking' sheets are provided for children and it is great to see the kids getting really interested in what they are looking at. I think it is clever that you can download these sheets before you go, so that the children can be involved right at the start of planning your trip.
My children always wanted to know "Why are the ladies breasts always hanging out of their frocks?" You can always count on kids to ask things like that can't you? My son was always trying to head me off from the Wedgewood collection which is vast. I loved the detail of how it was made but it was the one bit of the gallery he hated! He appreciates it now though!
When you need a break from all of the fine art and are about to develop 'culture induced mental indigestion', take yourself downstairs for a well earned drink, snack or hot meal and indulge your stomach instead!.
The cafe/restaurant serves good food in a comfortable environment. A main meal will set you back between £7.00-£10.00 and is comparable in quality to any decent restaurant. The lamb shank I had there with fresh veg was delicious. The coffee is fresh and good and the sandwiches ('butties' in Liverpool!) well filled and not expensive.
The toilets and baby changing facilities are downstairs too and they are spacious and clean.
The shop, which is next to the restaurant, has a lovely range of goods to buy, most of which manage to avoid the tackiness of some museum shops. There is a great range of postcards of the paintings and in my old house the loo walls were adorned with dozens of them! (I keep promising myself I will do the same in the loo here!)
At the moment there is a display of art by Whistler. All the special displays are free to enter but it's best to ring up first if there are a few of you going.
The Lady Lever have a diary of events and activities throughout the year. They can all be found on their excellent website below.
Another interesting thing the gallery does is to have a 'Featured painting of the month' This means that the chosen painting has talks and lectures about it on a daily basis. I accidentally stumbled into one of the talks in the gallery last year, it was so fascinating that I was an hour late home!
There is ample free parking outside the gallery if you come by car. There are good rail and bus links too. Details of these and directions can be found on the website.
Outside the Gallery, by the long water feature there is plenty of space for picnics. Sometimes if it rains they will let you eat inside, space permitting. (To me, this kind of helpfulness typifies the ethos of the Gallery.)
Opening times are 10am to 5pm daily. Except Christmas Day.
Overall I'd say this is not an Art Gallery to miss. It is not necessary to know anything about art to enjoy yourself here. I'd go so far as to say that it would be impossible not to be entranced by something you see. It is difficult to fully describe how rich an environment it is. Please visit it and write your own review. You will love it there.