'Lord Leverhulme' 1920

Augustus John (1878 - 1961)

Oil on canvas

'Lord Leverhulme', Augustus John

This portrait of William Hesketh Lever, first Viscount Leverhulme and builder of the Lady Lever Art Gallery, was painted by Augustus John in 1920.

Multi-millionaire art-lover Lever was deeply hurt when he saw his portrait and told a friend that he found it "humbling to pride a chastening thought". He didn't want anyone to see it and, as the picture was too big to hide in his safe, he cut out the head and locked it up.

Lever's housekeeper accidentally returned the rest of the portrait to Augustus John who, upset at what he saw as vandalism, told the press and caused a storm. The two parts were rejoined in 1954 at the instigation of the 3rd Lord Leverhulme and at the cost of the artist, who did not seem to bear any lasting grudge. The signs of this restoration can clearly be seen, following the cuts made by Leverhulme around the image of his face.

An extended study of 'Lord Levehulme' is available online as part of our 'Artwork of the month' series.