Collecting from other collectors

Room in an art gallery lined with display cases containing ceramics and decorative arts objects

Lever displayed his Chinese ceramics in 18th century-style showcases designed by Edgar Gorer, the London dealer from whom he bought much of his Chinese collection.

Lever acquired many of the pieces in the gallery through the bulk purchase of others' collections. He loved to buy objects which had been owned by well-known collectors. Important additions to his collection that he made in this way include:

  • A group of beautiful Chinese jade and cloisonné objects purchased in May 1916 from the pioneering collector Trevor Lawrence.
  • Masonic objects from Albert Calvert (1869-1946), an entrepreneur who specialised in setting up mining companies, and who was involved in freemasonry, like Lever himself.
  • A large group of Chinese snuff bottles purchased in 1918 from CS Holberton's collection. These ensured that Lever had one of the best collections of Chinese snuff bottles in the country.
  • A large collection of Greek vases and Roman sculpture originally assembled by the influential Regency writer and designer Thomas Hope
  • Ancient Greek vases that Lever purchased in 1917 had previously been owned by both Sir William Hamilton, one of the greatest 18th century collectors of classical art, and Thomas Hope.

Lever and James Orrock

A meeting with collector and patron of the arts James Orrock in 1896 transformed Lever from casual buyer to serious collector. Orrock was an advocate of British Art and campaigner for a national gallery, and Lever took up his cause with relish. He began to collect works from the periods Orrock favoured, mainly 18th and early 19th century works. On three ocassions, in 1904, 1910 and 1912, he even bought Orrock's own collection in its entirety. Their relationship is examined in the Masterpiece watercolours and drawings exhibition, which features 13 works purchased from Orrock.

Artist collectors

Lever collected paintings by some of the most successful artists of the Victorian period including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Both were also collectors. When objects from their collections came up for sale Lever was keen to buy them as a mark of his admiration.

Rossetti was one of the first 'Aesthetic' artists to collect blue and white Chinese porcelain. The Victorian classical artist Alma-Tadema collected decorative arts, which he sometimes used as studio props for his paintings.

Lord Tweedmouth's Wedgwood collection

Lever created the greatest collection of Wedgwood's most famous product, jasperware. But he did it almost by chance.

The best Wedgwood collection ever belonged to Lord Tweedmouth and came onto the market in 1905. It had many unique pieces. Lever had no Wedgwood collection, so he bought the lot. It cost him £17,200. He then used the specialist dealer Frederick Rathbone to expand the collection further.

The Richard Bennett collection

In 1911 Lever agreed to buy Richard Bennett's collection of Chinese ceramics from the dealer Edgar Gorer. Like Lever, Bennett was a manufacturer from Bolton. The collection contained mainly Kangxi blue-and-white, enamelled and some monochrome wares.

Lever was a cautious buyer. He insisted that the purchase should be anonymous. Inevitably, his name was leaked to the press and Lever refused to acknowledge the deal. After negotiation he bought about one sixth of the Bennett collection.

The George McCulloch collection

In 1913 Lever acquired the entire paintings collection of the wealthy mine owner George McCulloch.

It was the purchase of this last collection that was the catalyst behind the construction of the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Leverhulme felt he needed a purpose-built gallery to display the many imposing works he now owned. For example, Frederic Leighton's huge painting, 'The Daphnephoria', which came from McCulloch's collection, still hangs at the north end of the main hall for which it was always intended.