The galleries, which closed for the refurbishment in November 2014, house more than 1,500 objects, including the best collection of Wedgwood jasperware in the world, one of the finest collections of Chinese porcelain in Europe and outstanding 18th century paintings, furniture and sculpture. The galleries have been returned to their original architectural glory as part of the improvement works, showcasing William Hesketh Lever’s internationally-renowned collections in a similarly impressive style to that employed by Lever when the Gallery first opened in 1922.
The South End Galleries will host a major new exhibition of Picasso linocuts from June 24 to January 8 2017, acquired by the British Museum with support from the Art Fund.
“The new South End galleries are a true representation of Lever’s remarkable vision. He believed that art should be an inspiration to all, and the rooms in this spectacular space were re-imagined with this message at heart,” said Sandra Penketh, Director of Art Galleries at National Museums Liverpool. “We’ve reversed some of the changes that were made to the South End in the 1960s, opening up the galleries to allow us to display Lever’s outstanding treasures in the best possible way. We’re incredibly excited to reveal the new galleries to visitors and hope that they’ll enjoy exploring the collections in new and inspiring ways.”
A number of architectural changes have been made to the galleries in order to return them to their impressive former grandeur, including the opening up of original doorways to improve circulation within the galleries.
The striking, original double-height spaces with barrel vaulted ceilings have also been revealed by removing the low, suspended ceilings that were installed in the 1960s. The new galleries boast an array of beautiful period features, from elaborate plasterwork architraves and skirting, cast from the original designs, to parquet flooring throughout.
New glazed doors provide picturesque views of Port Sunlight village from the South End, while innovative architectural lighting highlights some of the Gallery’s most beautiful and iconic features, including the South End glass dome.
Sara Hilton, Head of HLF North West, said: “The Lady Lever Art Gallery demonstrates the leading role heritage plays in making this area such a special place to live in and visit and I’m delighted to see it go from strength to strength, thanks to National Lottery investment.”
The new galleries and opening events programme have been designed to encourage visitors of all ages to enjoy William Hesketh Lever’s internationally-renowned collections, in line with his belief that “art is within the reach of all of us.”
The scheme has been funded through donations, corporate sponsorship and major grants, including a £1.4m HLF grant.
The new galleries include
- Wedgwood rooms – two interlinked rooms showcasing the Gallery’s remarkable Wedgwood collection, which includes the world’s finest collection of Wedgwood jasperware. The new displays highlight incredibly rare objects, such as two copies of the celebrated Portland Vase, three complete jasperware fireplaces and plaques made by Wedgwood and painted by George Stubbs.
- 18th century room – female portraiture and the lifestyles of women living in the 18th century are explored through portraits by artists including Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Romney and Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun. This room also houses some of the most outstanding examples of English 18th century furniture in the country.
- Chinese rooms – two interlinked rooms demonstrate the importance and influence of Chinese ceramics on European art and taste. This rich collection includes 17th – 18th century porcelain (Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong periods), reverse paintings on glass, cloisonné and jade, as well as snuff bottles and earlier ceramics of the Han, Tang and Song dynasties (2nd century BC – 14th century).
- Chinoiserie room – a new room exploring the ways in which European artists re-interpreted oriental designs and decoration in objects made in the West. Much of the Gallery’s Chinoiserie furniture is displayed together here for the first time.
- Napoleon room – a dazzling display of furniture and artefacts related to Napoleon, including a Napoleon death mask, will be given new life as visitors will be able to get much closer to the objects. The room not only demonstrates Lever’s eclectic taste, but also his drive to collect, assemble and share those things which inspired him most.
- The sculpture gallery – refurbishment of the beautiful south dome has created a dramatic backdrop for fine examples of Victorian and early 20th century sculpture. At the centre of the gallery is Desiré Maurice Ferrary’s breath-taking Salammbo, which Lever purchased from the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900.