Collectors in focus

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Mrs-Paine-and-her-Daughters Mrs Paine and her Daughters (1975), Sir Joshua Reynolds (c) National Museums Liverpool

You may not be aware, but now when you visit Sudley House, you will also be able to see a display of nine paintings from the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

We have taken the opportunity to tour these artworks to

Sudley House due to the Lady Lever Art Gallery’s South End development project, which is currently underway.

Both George Holt who owned Sudley House and Lord Lever, who created the Lady Lever Art Gallery, had a passion for art and collected some world renowned works. However, the two collectors had quite different tastes and reasons for purchasing their paintings.

Holt, much like any other merchant of the time, had a taste for mainly 19th century British art, but over the years he also bought works by notable foreign artists such as Jean Baptise Camille Corot and Rosa Bonheur. It’s towards the later years of his collecting that the greater names and more important pictures begin to appear.

Holt did not collect art simply as a status symbol, as some merchant collectors may have. The majority of the collection was bought for his home and the collection was assembled to delight, instruct and give pride to a comfortable household.

Lever originally began collecting paintings to use in his soap advertisement campaigns and would go to exhibitions with an eye for finding paintings that would lend themselves to this.

His early purchases were driven by his desire for commercial success. He would commission artists to replicate the paintings, but would instruct them to replace objects in the painting, such as a clock on a mantelpiece or a cup and saucer on a table, with boxes of Sunlight soap from his product line. Most of the paintings positioned in the main hall at the Lady Lever were collected for Lever’s own enjoyment, when he became a wealthy businessman.

William-Hesketh-Lever-blog William Hesketh Lever (1897), Samuel Luke Fildes (c) National Museums Liverpool

Lever collected paintings, Chinese porcelain, furniture, Wedgwood pottery and other artefacts to decorate and furnish his many homes. When he opened the Lady Lever Art Gallery, he personally picked out the best of his collections and placed them into the Gallery.

The scale of the paintings at Sudley House is relatively small, as the size of the rooms prevented Holt from purchasing large and dramatic paintings. His taste for paintings reflected everyday life and he favoured works with overt religious themes, or saintly overtones.

Today, Sudley House is one of only a few period homes decorated in a Victorian style that still has many of its original features. It houses the only surviving Victorian merchant art collection in Britain still hanging in its original location.

Despite their differences, the collectors shared some similar ideas and values. Holt and Lever were philanthropists and used their wealth to help others and the City of Liverpool.

Holt was a supporter of education. He founded the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys and also helped fund the University of Liverpool, with a building being named after him.

Lever built Port Sunlight village to provide his employees with suitable housing. He also campaigned for better housing, welfare and working conditions for those employed by Lever Brothers.

If you would like to find out more about these collectors, visit Collection in Focus at Sudley House.