Author: Michael Escolme

Writer. Art Historian. Eternal Student.

Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion Walker art Gallery, Liverpool

This exhibition was first mooted by curator Christopher Newall nearly a decade ago. It seems incredible that it has taken this long for the Walker to celebrate the City of Liverpool’s longstanding association with one of the most significant British art movements. Particularly given the enduring popularity of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the wealth of its treasures held by the galleries of Merseyside.

In the grass by Arthur Hughes

Liverpool has always had a mischievous, rebellious side, one which has both attracted and nurtured creatives and the leftfield. Thus it was only natural that a small group of rebellious, hot-headed young men found a ready audience for their work in this city. (more…)


Cloisters, the Church of the Frari, Venice by Henry Woods (1846-1921)

At first glance, Warrington and Venice may not seem to have much in common but they are inextricably linked by the life of Warrington born artist Henry Woods.

Cloisters, the Church of the Frari, Venice

Woods showed exceptional artistic talent at school which earnt him a scholarship to the prestigious South Kensington School of Art (now The Royal College of Art.) By the age of 30 he had become fascinated by the city of Venice and so moved there permanently. He began to incorporate the Venetian architecture and the people into his work. This painting of the Cloisters of the Holy Trinity in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari currently hangs in Warrington Museum in memoriam to one of the town’s great sons.


An Imaginary Portrait of Margaret Wotton (c.1490–after 1535), Marchioness of Dorset

Mother’s Day, as a day of celebrating maternal bonds, is a comparatively modern celebration. Its origins can be traced back to Mothering Sunday, which was originally a feast day celebrating the mother church rather than motherhood.

Oil painting on panel, Margaret Wootton, Marchioness of Dorset (1517-1535), British (English) School. 18th century. Three-quarter length portrait of a woman, turned slightly to the right, gazing to the right, holding a long cane and a small sprig of flowers in both her hands which she holds at her waist, wearing a black dress edged with ermine at the neckline and a black ermine-lined coat, revealing large expanse of ermine in her turned-back sleeves. She also wears a black gable hood with white reveals. Wife of Sir Thomas Grey Marquess of Dorset.Lengthy inscriptions.

This may have been good news for Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, one of the sons of Margaret Wooton whose portrait hangs on the walls of Dunham Massey Hall. Throughout his life Henry managed to antagonise his mother in a variety of ways. Most notably he was fined a huge sum for breach of contract after he renounced his betrothal to the daughter of the Earl of Arundel. His mother attempted to restrict his allowance to the point of nearly ruining him, an act which her peers denounced as unmotherly and wicked. Shortly afterwards she was even compelled to answer charges that her treatment of her son meant she was an unnatural mother.


The Mermaid of Galloway by William Hilton (1786-1839)

Tradition dictates that on February 14th each year prospective lovers will send each other romantic missives in a bid to win affections. One such tale of love and desire is told in the legend of the Mermaid of Galloway. In the 1810s Sir John Leicester, owner of Tabley, was intrigued by a poem, published by Robert Hartley Cromek in a book of traditional folklore, which told one version of the tale of the mermaid. Leicester commissioned the artist William Hilton to commit the story to canvas.

According to the folklore of the Scottish Lowlands, the mermaids were a race of goddesses who had become corrupted with earthly desire. Their beauty was such that the heart of any man who viewed their faces would be filled with unquenchable desire. Their visits to the earth were rare and the subject of many stories but they would select a man of ‘exalted virtue and rare endowments’ and then woo him with their siren like voices.


The Wreck Buoy by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Visitors to Sudley House near Liverpool are able to enjoy several examples of the work of the great British landscape painter JMW Turner. The Wreck Buoy is the shining example; it captures Turner’s obsession with the sea at the height of his power. Whilst a controversial figure in his own lifetime, his reputation as a master is now assured. Known as the great ‘painter of light’ Turner’s influence on the later Impressionist movement is now firmly acknowledged.

The Wreck Buoy by Joseph Mallord William Turner

The painting’s impressive dimensions allow the viewer to ruminate on both the majesty and ferocity of nature. Its location in the house of ship owner and merchant George Holt reminds us of Liverpool’s reliance on the sea for trade and prosperity. Yet for all of Turner’s ability to romanticise the stormy weather that surrounds our small island nation, this painting represents a much darker side. The wreck buoy floats atop the unrelenting wave warning sailors of the danger beneath. It marks the spot where the bodies of their peers lie. The rainbow arching over the horizon points down towards the buoy, its vibrant colours have been drained by the storm and are all but lost on the canvas. It is a stark reminder of the futility of human endeavour.


Break-up of the ice on the Seine, near Bennecourt by Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Monet was the founder of French Impressionist painting and his style defined the movement. Impressionism was a term coined by a journalist using the title from one of Monet’s first works and was intended to be disparaging and dismissive. The combination of broad brush strokes and everyday subject matter contrasted heavily with the more formal painting styles of the early nineteenth century, and led critics to call this work a mere impression rather than a finished work.

Break-up of the ice on the Seine, near Bennecourt

Monet sought to capture the changing effects of light on landscapes and would frequently capture the same scenes at different times of the day or even different times of the year. As an aid to authenticity, he pioneered the painting of subjects en plein air, or outside; a task made much easier by the development of ready mixed oil paints. Known mainly for his paintings of the lily pond and Chinese bridge in the extensive gardens of his house at Giverny in Northern France, Monet was equally intrigued by all landscapes whether natural or man-made.


Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

Visitors to the impressive Victorian Gallery at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool are often struck by this imposing canvas and the tragic tale of unrequited love it so romantically illustrates. Echo and Narcissus is an episode from the epic Roman poem Metamorphoses written by Ovid around 2000 years ago.

Narcissus, as the son of a god and a nymph, was a young man possessed of both grace and beauty. As a child his parents were told that he would have a long life if he did not look at himself. Throughout his youth he rejected all the nymphs and women who fell in love with him. One of these was the nymph Echo. A tragic figure once punished by a goddess for her constant chatter, Echo was confined to repeating the words of others. Hopelessly obsessed with Narcissus she tried to win his love using fragments of his own speech but he spurned her attentions. Echo was so upset by her rejection that she withdrew from life and wasted away until all that was left was a whisper. Her prayers were heard by the goddess Nemesis who cursed Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection. Obsessed by his own image, he continued to look at his reflection, forgoing all food and water until his death. A narcissus flower grew on the riverside marking the spot where he died.