Vittoria Docks, Birkenhead, Wirral, 1919, John Worsley © the artist's estate
The Art and the Sea gallery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum has been a hive of activity this week with a rehang of a collection of fourteen maritime paintings; some from the existing collection or only rarely displayed, and one which hasn’t been on public display before. Curator of Maritime Art, Rebecca Smith reveals the history behind some of these works.
‘Liverpool in its heyday caused it to be regarded as a mecca for those with maritime aspirations of any sort’, Sam Davidson, maritime art historian
The maritime boom of the nineteenth century saw Liverpool emerge as one of the major world ports. The growth in trade attracted a vast number of shipping companies and maritime traffic into the River Mersey. Merchants and ship owners within the city, along with visiting seafarers, created a thriving market for maritime art that recorded a unique period of the city’s history.
Some of the most significant maritime artists of the time worked in the city, and many local artists developed their skills in this environment, to become some of the leading lights in the field. In the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Art and the Sea gallery we have rehung a display of fourteen paintings; a few old favourites but also some that have never been seen before or only rarely displayed, including Perseus off Gibraltar by Walter Thomas. Perseus was part of the Blue Funnel line’s fleet and was built between 1949-1951, to replenish their ships lost during the Second World War. Perseus sailed from the docks on both sides of the River Mersey. This painting is one of the more modern works in the collection and was acquired by the museum as it represents a very local shipping company.
Perseus off Gibraltar, Walter Thomas © artist's estate
Walter Thomas worked as an artist-designer of posters for the Liverpool Printing Company from the mid 1920s. Walter produced most of the Blue Funnel line’s artwork and he also produced posters for Cunard.
Another painting now on display is John Worsley’s 1967 depiction of Vittoria Docks in Birkenhead, Wirral. The dock was built from 1905 and opened in 1909. In the foreground we see a thriving Blue Funnel line shipping company and in the far background we see an established sun drenched Liverpool waterfront including the Cathedral towards the right and the Three Graces on the left. John Worsley was born in Liverpool in 1919 and was the youngest member of Sir Kenneth Clark’s team of official war artists during the Second World War. On the outbreak of war he joined the Naval Reserve and spent three years on escort duty in the North Sea and the Atlantic.
Painted views of the port have become rarer as photography has taken over as the favoured means of recording scenes, but this unusual view of the docks and river shows that painters still bring something unique to maritime Merseyside.
See John Worsley’s work and others in the collection, from this May bank holiday weekend.