Sweethearts and Wives

WAG 9755


The vivid colours and meticulous detail in this painting show the artist's awareness of Pre-Raphaelitism.The view is from the Liverpool dock shore looking towards Birkenhead and Tranmere. St Mary's Church in Birkenhead can be clearly seen. Also visible are the windmill on Bidston Hill, and another above Tranmere. The architecture is a rather generalised mixture of chimneys and houses but some sense of the terraces of Hamilton Square in Birkenhead is conveyed. Dockside parting scenes were popular subjects during the 1850s. The most famous of these was a picture by Henry Nelson O'Neill (1817 - 1880), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857, entitled 'Eastwood Ho'. It showed soldiers leaving for India after the Indian Mutiny. The picture was displayed in Liverpool in 1857, and an engraving after it was published in 1860. These may have prompted Lee's choice of subject. The men in Lee's scene are from HMS Majestic, an ex-Crimea warship anchored in the Mersey as part of the port defences. ‘Sweethearts and Wives’ is a traditional naval toast. This painting was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1861.