- More than three years since their galleries closed for refurbishment, the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque treasures of the Walker Art Gallery return to public display on 29 July 2023.
- 'Renaissance Rediscovered' features major names including Michelangelo, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt and more, alongside newly acquired masterpieces on public display for the first time.
- Fresh research explores diverse histories that have previously been excluded, offering fascinating new insights into Black, LGBTQ+ and women’s stories.
- 'Renaissance Rediscovered' comprises around 200 paintings, sculpture and decorative art objects, along with prints and drawings in a dedicated gallery for the first time.
- 90 years since they first opened, the Walker Art Gallery’s Rooms 1-4 have undergone a major renovation. The UK Government gave £4 million towards this project and other works at National Museums Liverpool, to support its collection’s care. 'Renaissance Rediscovered' is also funded by Art Fund, Tavolozza Foundation, Henry Moore Foundation and Art Friends Merseyside.
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'Renaissance Rediscovered' presents the Walker’s renowned collection of western European art from the 13th to the 18th century. Masterpieces such as Simone Martini’s 'Christ Discovered in the Temple', Holbein’s 'Portrait of Henry VIII', and Rembrandt’s 'Self-Portrait as a Young Man feature' in the elegant new spaces.
New acquisitions join this spectacular collection for the first time, including 'Allegory of Painting and Music', the first painting by Giovanni Andrea Sirani to enter a UK public collection, and 'Still Life with Flowers' by 17th-century Dutch artist, Willem van Aelst.
Other iconic artists represented include Titian, Lavinia Fontana, Peter Paul Rubens and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
A treasure trove of ivory carvings, enamel, silver, glass, ceramics, jewellery and textiles dating from 1200 to 1700 reveal a revolutionary period in art history when trade and travel led to the spread of new ideas and styles. Imagery created by 3D video microscopy will enable visitors to gain a closer look at star objects from the Walker’s outstanding decorative arts collection.
Improved environmental controls will enable the Walker to showcase its extraordinary collection of prints, drawings and watercolours through changing displays for the first time. The Walker holds a collection of more than 8,350 drawings, prints and watercolours by British and International artists, many of which have never been shown before. Highlights for the opening of the new gallery include an unflinching self-portrait by Elisabetta Sirani, and 'Study for the Head of the Archangel Gabriel, in Allegory of the Triumph of Christ', by Guido Reni, a fascinating design for the dome of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament in Ravenna Cathedral, Italy.
The role of the wealthy Victorian collectors who shaped the foundation of the Walker Art Gallery is addressed within the new displays. Joseph Mayer (1803-1886) presented 14,000 objects to the city in 1867, while the MP William Roscoe (1753-1831), purchased many of the most important paintings on display. The same paintings were later bought by the Liverpool Royal Institution, a group of wealthy art patrons who gave its collection to the Walker in 1948.
Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery, with many members of the Institution making their fortunes through the abhorrent trade. The opening of 'Renaissance Rediscovered' offers an important opportunity to reflect on this legacy and is part of the gallery’s ongoing work to recognise its links to slavery, colonialism and empire.
Although centuries old, the subjects these works explore are powerful and enduring themes - faith, family, diversity, migration – that remain relevant to people today. New research focuses on stories that have previously been overlooked. From exploring one of the earliest examples of a visible Black presence in the Walker’s collection 'Portrait of a Young Man' (around 1520) by Jan Mostaert, to deeper engagement with the many women depicted within the gallery walls and the origins of a 19th-century ‘gay icon’ through 'The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian', by Bartolomeo di Giovanni, 'Renaissance Rediscovered' gives refreshing viewpoints to a historic collection.
A special spotlight on a collection of ‘Madonna and child’ paintings explores the cult status of Mary during the Middle Ages, with some works focusing on their divine and holy status, while others celebrate a more down to earth but timeless bond between mother and baby.
A new digital interactive will bring to life the tapestry, 'The Triumph of Fortitude (Brussels, about 1525), the largest piece on display, The brave and compelling female characters from mythology and the Old Testament featured within the tapestry are the focus in this new story-telling interactive.
Kate O’Donoghue, Curator of International Fine Art at Walker Art Gallery, said:
We are thrilled to be returning the rare and exceptional paintings, sculptures and decorative arts from our Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque collections to permanent display in stunning, refurbished galleries. Accompanied by new perspectives and fresh interpretation which breathes new life into a historic collection, this is a significant moment in the history of the Walker.
We are hugely grateful to the UK Government and our other partners, including Art Fund, for their support in creating these beautiful spaces and ensuring these works can continued to be enjoyed into the future.
Minister for Arts and Heritage, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:
The triumphant success of Eurovision was a clear demonstration of the power of Liverpool's cultural attractions to draw in and inspire millions of visitors from around the world. The opening of 'Renaissance Rediscovered' at the Walker Art Gallery means the city can add even more to its wealth of cultural offerings.
The £4 million provided by the Government has helped to support the gallery re-imagine its impressive collection – so that visitors gain new insights, perspectives and entertainment for generations to come.
Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund, said:
Giovanni Andrea Sirani’s vibrant 'Allegory of Painting and Music' is the first ever painting by this important baroque artist to enter a UK public collection. I’m delighted Art Fund has been able to support Walker Art Gallery to acquire the painting, and look forward to it going on show to the public later this month alongside other world-class art treasures as part of the gallery’s spectacular refurbishment.
NOTES TO EDITOR In 1933 Rooms 1-4 formed a new extension to the Walker Art Gallery (which was by then more than 40 years old, having opened in 1877). Now, 90 years later the 600 square metres of space has undergone significant improvements. Costing in the region of £710,000 the transformation brings fresh elegant designs, new display cases and much improved lighting.
The refurbishment of Rooms 1-4 represents the final chapter of the major works which began at the Walker in 2021 (following delays caused by COVID-19), when in order to safeguard the collection, it was necessary to carry out substantial repair work to the air-conditioning and the roof above the galleries.
This infrastructure work, combined with the interior fit-out, gives an overall project cost of around £4.5 million.
WALKER ART GALLERY
The Walker Art Gallery houses an internationally renowned collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative art. It is one of Europe’s finest galleries, with a collection that ranges from outstanding modern and contemporary works to Medieval and Renaissance masterpieces. Some of the greatest British artists of the last century are represented in the modern and contemporary galleries, from Lucian Freud and David Hockney to Barbara Hepworth and Lubaina Himid, while its Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionist collections are not to be missed. The Gallery’s Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque displays (Rooms 1-4) are currently closed to facilitate a major redevelopment programme, funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The new galleries will showcase iconic works of art from the collection, as well as introducing some less familiar pieces. The displays will reveal fascinating new stories and enable the Gallery to explore how we exhibit and talk about historic art today.
National Museums Liverpool
National Museums Liverpool (NML) comprises seven venues, including some of the most visited museums in England outside of London. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic. We attracted almost 2.5 million visitors in 2022.
Our venues are Museum of Liverpool, World Museum, Walker Art Gallery, Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Sudley House and Lady Lever Art Gallery. National Museums Liverpool is regulated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
About Art Fund
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by Art Partners, donors, trusts and foundations and the 135,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free or discounted entry to over 850 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year. The winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2022 is Horniman Museums & Gardens. www.artfund.org
About the Henry Moore Foundation
The Henry Moore Foundation was founded by the artist and his family in 1977 to encourage public appreciation of the visual arts. Today the Foundation supports innovative sculpture projects through its grants programme, devises an imaginative programme of exhibitions and research worldwide, and preserves the legacy of Moore himself: one of the great sculptors of the 20th century, who did so much to bring the art form to a wider audience.
About The Tavolozza Foundation
Based in Munich and founded in 2001 by art collector Katrin Bellinger, The Tavolozza Foundation supports and conducts art historical and scientific projects, supports artists, exhibitions and publications as well as museums and other cultural institutions. This includes providing funding for exhibitions, acquisitions, scholarly publications as well as special projects such as conferences and study days.