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Victorian Life

Lady Lever Art Gallery

7 June 2003 to 4 January 2004

Victorian Life is a small display watercolours, prints, photographs and original Victorian dolls from National Museums Liverpool's collections. A newly acquired work, St John's Market by popular local artist Samuel Austin, is on show for the first time.

'St John's Market' by Samuel Austin

Images of shopping, leisure and play during the nineteenth century reveal both the romanticized ideals and harsh realities of everyday Victorian living, from the pastoral scenes created by Myles Birket Foster to depictions of the poor members of Victorian society by Scottish documentary photographer John Thomson.

Foster's sentimental pictures were popular among the Victorians, who liked their countryside scenes to be picturesque and populated by healthy, quaintly-dressed agricultural workers chewing corn. In an increasingly urban and industrial society these reminders of a simpler time must have proved irresistible to the Victorian city dwellers.

In contrast, Thomson portrayed the cabmen, flower-sellers and street musicians whose services often enhanced the leisure activities of the richer classes. However their own daily struggle for survival left them with neither the time nor the means to indulge in such pursuits themselves.

Misses, by Kate Greenaway (1846-1901). Watercolour, bodycolour and scraping out on paper, c.1879

Other works on show include watercolours by Kate Greenaway and Frederick Walker - both remembered for their literary illustrations. Greenaway was primarily children's author and illustrator. Her pictures usually featuring children in Regency-style costume and taking part in their own versions of adult social activities, such as the promenade. Her 'dressed up babies' appealed to the idealised Victorian notions of childhood and the books were immensely popular.

The display also features an etching by James (Abbott) McNeill Whistler combining two popular Victorian pastimes of boating and outdoor sketching. The famous American artist Whistler is widely acknowledged as a master in the medium of etching and visited Liverpool on many occasions to see his major patron, local ship owner Frederick Leyland. He also exhibited work at the Walker's annual autumn exhibitions in 1872 and 1891.