A great collection

old photo of a man in a suit looking at large ornamental vases on a fireplace in a room hung with lots of paintings

Lever admiring the pair of Derby figures which were the first works of art he bought, in the late 1870s.

In his lifetime Lever collected over 20,000 works of art. Many of these are on display in the gallery today. This massive and diverse collection includes paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, textiles and ethnographic objects.

Lever mostly collected British art. But he was also fascinated by Chinese porcelain, Roman sculpture and Greek vases. He collected them to show the styles that had most influenced British artists and designers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Lever employed many art dealers to find suitable works for his collection. He had enough money to buy some collections outright, including Lord Tweedmouth's distinguished collection of Wedgwood. He bought the dealer James Orrock's collections of English and Chinese art, in their entirety, on three occasions.

You can see some of the highlights of Lever's paintings, furniture, tapestries, Wedgwood, Chinese art, classical antiquities and sculpture in the collections section of the website.

Did you know?

  • The Lady Lever Art Gallery has the best collection of Wedgwood jasperware in the world.
  • Lever was fascinated by the French Emperor Napoleon and collected furniture, decorative arts and memorabilia associated with him. The highlights are on display in the gallery's Napoleon Room.
  • The gallery has one of the best collections of 18th century furniture in the country.
  • Lever helped fund excavations in Egypt by the Liverpool University archaeologist John Garstang in 1906 and 1913. In return he received finds from the dig.
  • Lever's collection of Chinese snuff bottles is one of the best in the country. He collected 166 snuff bottles, most in 1918 from CS Holberton's collection.
  • The gallery's collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings is world famous.
  • Lever collected several sculptures depicting his great political hero William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898). Gladstone, born in Liverpool, had been a major figure in British politics since Lever's childhood and served as Prime Minister four times.
  • When Lever died in 1925 his son presented his personal Masonic regalia to the gallery, including his Masonic jewels.
  • Lever bought arms and armour especially for public display rather than for his own home as he thought they would appeal to visitors who, in his own words, "... do not particularly admire pictures or statuary ..."
  • The Lady Lever Art Gallery has the best group of New Sculpture outside London.
  • Lever was one of the first collectors of embroideries, favouring English picture embroideries that were considered naive and amateurish by many connoisseurs.
  • As Lever expanded his business overseas he travelled extensively. He built up a collection of more than 1,000 ethnographic objects, initially as souvenirs of his travels, although later he collected specifically for public display.