Liverpool prints by Helena Markson

I am pleased to announce that the Walker Art Gallery has acquired a significant group of Helena Markson’s Liverpool prints. Markson is known for her vivid landscapes which combine intaglio printing techniques such as etching and aquatint. These prints are an important acquisition for the Walker. They show a period of great change in the city, while also representing an exciting era of printmaking in post-war Britain. The prints also help increase the gallery’s collection of work by women artists.

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Helena Markson with Liverpool prints, about 1964

An international career

Born in London, Markson attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London (1952-56) and later trained under the painter and printmaker Merlyn Evans (1910-73). She was an important printmaker who showed much originality and ambition in her work.

While in London, she made urban landscapes, exhibiting widely with artists such Birgit Skiöld (1923-82), Patrick Heron (1920-99), Terry Frost (1915-2003), Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) and John Piper (1903-92).  In 1962, she was commissioned by Twining’s to design a mural based on the history of the house of Twining for the entrance of their head office on the Strand, London. Markson also took up teaching posts at Byam Shaw School of Drawing and Painting and St Martin’s and Chelsea College of Art.

By 1970 Markson was living and working in Israel. She taught at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the Avni Institute of Art and Design, and later at the University of Haifa where she founded the Fine Art Printmaking Studios. Markson also exhibited her series of Liverpool prints at the Nahmani’s Art Gallery in Haifa. A number of fellowships and projects also enabled Markson to travel widely throughout Italy, Switzerland, France and the USA. She later spilt her time between Israel and the UK, and died in Cambridge in 2012.

print showing the Palm House in Sefton Park

The Palm House by Helena Markson, 1967-68

Documenting Liverpool

In the early 1960s she worked at Birgit Skiöld’s highly successful ‘Fine Art Printmaking Workshop’ in London. This was the first open-access professional print studio in England, which provided a space where artists could work independently. While immersed in this new creative environment, Markson was approached by architect Graeme Shankland (1917-1984) to produce a series of prints featuring Liverpool. Shankland had been appointed City Planner in Liverpool in 1961. He was instrumental in the urban renewal of the city during the 1960s. He commissioned Markson to record the changing landscape and she made several trips to Liverpool and the surrounding areas in the mid-1960s to do so. This became one of the most important commissions of Markson’s life.

"Liverpool is a unique city with its great contrasts of activities and array of architecture. The historical context was both enlightening and stimulating where for me the buildings became the persona in human terms as expressed in the images – ‘dramatis personæ'."
Helena Markson, October 2007

figures crossing a bridge at the docks

Suspension Bridge by Helena Markson, 1966-67

Markson produced the first series of Liverpool prints in around 1964 and the Walker purchased seven of them for its permanent collection at the time. Following Markson’s death in 2012, these prints were displayed at the gallery in 2016. This exhibition coincided with the publication of Helena Markson: A Sense of Place, which documents the artist’s life and work. This wonderfully illustrated and insightful book, written by Emma Mason in collaboration with Markson’s sister Irene Saper, draws particular attention to Markson’s later Liverpool prints that were made between 1966 and 1968. Irene, who once lived in Falkner Square and attended Liverpool University, generously offered to donate eight of these prints to the Walker. In addition, she also gifted Markson’s Liverpool sketchbook, photographs of the artist in Liverpool, and a wonderful late print entitled Ghost of Albert Dock made in 2012.

print of the Albert Dock

Ghosts of Albert Dock by Helena Markson, 2012

The Walker would like to thank Irene and the Markson family for their generous donation. Gifts such as this enrich our collection for the benefit of our audiences and future generations. We know they will bring huge enjoyment to our visitors, and we are delighted to grow our collection with these important works by one of Britain’s most creative print makers.  

cityscape with church in foreground

Merseyside by Helena Markson, 1967-68