Friday, November 02, 2007

Art Treasures in Manchester

Art Treasures in Manchester - 150 years on
catalogue of the exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery
Authors: Tristram Hunt and Victoria Whitfield

Publishers: Manchester Art Gallery Philip Wilson Publishers

The Autumn is a time when many major art fairs are held, however few would be able to compete with the one I went to see a glimpse of earlier this week when I visited "Art Treasures in Manchester - 150 years on" - the new exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery.

Despite my northern heritage, I was absolutely amazed to find that I knew absolutely nothing about the biggest art exhibition ever held in this country - in Manchester.

Shortly after the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, a group of Mancunian businessmen decided that Manchester should have the largest temporary art exhibition ever held in the UK. It appears to have been an absolutely extraordinary event with 16,000 items on show and some 1.3 million visitors over the course of five months in 1857

Despite a critical lecture by Ruskin (who was greatly in favour of 'art as eternal beauty' rather than 'art as a temporary exhibition'), it apparently laid Manchester's Coketown image to rest and enabled a celebration of culture and a modern marriage between art and commerce.
Art Treasures in Manchester is a major exhibition that marks the 150th anniversary of the largest art show ever seen in Britain, Art Treasures of the United Kingdom. The original Art Treasures show, held in 1857 in Manchester, was an incredible achievement for the city and an extraordinary artistic event. This new exhibition tells its story.

Held at Old Trafford in a temporary glass pavilion on the scale of London's Crystal Palace, the original Art Treasures show featured over 16,000 exhibits including paintings, sculptures, photographs and decorative arts borrowed mainly from a range of private collections. It was opened by Prince Albert in May 1857 and was visited by over 1.3 million people; visitors included Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Florence Nightingale and the French Emperor Louis Napoleon.
Manchester Art Gallery Press Release
The exhibition comprises two halves. The first part is about Manchester in the first half of the nineteenth century and the development of the exhibition. The second half contains a small percentage of works from the original exhibition.

981 individual, institutional and corporate lenders contributed works of art to the original exhibition with the Royal Collection contributing the largest number - 94 works in total. Some statistics:
  • 1,173 paintings by Old Masters - including 39 by Rubens, 33 by raphael, 30 by Titian and 28 by Rembrandt
  • 386 British portraits
  • works by UK artists were almost all confined to the Modern Paintings Section and included 24 paintings by Turner
  • the Soulages collection of 749 decorative objects which now forms part of the V&A Collection
  • 160 sculptures
  • 1500 engravings
  • 500 miniatures
  • 260 drawings
  • 969 watercolours
  • 597 photographs
  • and 63 architectural drawings.
An awful lot of national and major galleries and private collections including the Royal Collection have also contributed drawings, paintings, decorative art and photographs to this exhibition although it is by no means anything like as big as the original - showing only 160 works of art - one hundredth of the 16,000 originally on show. Works include paintings by work by British artists such as Hogarth, Gainsborough, Turner and Constable, as well as the Pre-Raphaelites and Old Masters.

I recognised a number of pieces from galleries in London - including my favourite Palissy lead-glazed earthenware dish from the V&A (I work out a route which means I get to say a quiet 'Hello' to it every time I visit)

The Manchester Madonna which normally lives at the National Gallery is one of the pieces on show. It acquired its nickname as a result of its appearance at the Exhibition shortly after having been formally recognised as a work by Michelangelo.

The exhibition created a precedent for the display of painting in the UK. Influenced by Prince Albert, all the older paintings were displayed in a chronological order so that people could see how art changed over time. This method of showing art work was pioneered at this exhibotion and has been adopted many times since.

I very much enjoyed seeing examples of what was at that time, modern art by British artists and was very impressed with the painting of The Hireling Shepherd by William Holman Hunt and 'Work' by Ford Madox Brown. I was also very taken with the very early photographs and a number of the watercolours on show. Unfortunately, the Gallery and exhibition website do not provide any digital images of works on show, although some of the works which belong to the Gallery could be found elsewhere on the website. However, the Telegraph site does provide sone additional images.

Dignity and Impudence 1839
by Sir Edwin Landseer

Oil painting on canvas, support: 889 x 692 mm
Bequeathed by Jacob Bell 1859
Tate Britain
Landseer's painting of the bloodhound and the terrier tickled my fancy and generated a quick sketch. I gather I'm not alone in liking it as it appeared as the second favourite painting of all the people who have visited the exhibition so far. You can see a quick sketch I did of this (and of the Gallery Cafe) here.

The exhibition closes at the end of January.

I had a quick trot round the rest of the Art gallery and was interested to see some artists I'd not come across before. The Galleru also has an excellent collection of pre-Raphelite paintings by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Waterhouse.

A quick note for those who may be interested in events at the Gallery. It's holding a two day workshop on drawing and painting the human figure this weekend and again later in November - details below
An introduction to drawing and painting the human figure
Sat 3 and Sun 4 Nov repeated on Sat 19 and Sun 20 Jan 08
Ever wanted to learn how to draw the human figure? This two day course with artist, Jill Harrison, will show you how. Inspired by the Art Treasures exhibition this course will cover a range of techniques and will be an opportunity to draw from a life model.
£30, £25 concessions, please book
Art Treasures in Manchester - 150 years on - Education and Events

1 comment:

df said...

speaking of art treasures, did you get the new Maira Kalman book, "The Principles of Uncertainty"?.

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