The Walker Art Gallery’s works on paper collection has a diverse range of photographs, prints, watercolours and drawings depicting Liverpool and its surrounding areas. The works in this collection highlight some of the remarkable images relating to the Liverpool docks and the River Mersey.
Since the world’s first wet dock opened in Liverpool in 1715, the docks have grown and evolved, transforming the city into a major international centre of merchant shipping. Designed by engineers such as Thomas Steers (1672-1750) and Jesse Hartley (1780-1860), and publicly funded through multiple Acts of Parliament, the Liverpool docks represent the epitome of civic pride and engineering ingenuity. Having survived three centuries of wear and tear, and even the Blitz during World War II, some still stand proud, while others have been drained and filled to provide space for some of Liverpool’s most iconic buildings.
This small collection of work shows the changing forms and functions of the Liverpool docks over three centuries. They also highlight how artists from the early 18th century to the late 20th century viewed and interpreted the subject matter through the use of different media and techniques. Sir Frank Short (1857-1945) led a revival in etching and mezzotint in the early 20th century. His imaginative approach to spatial composition was almost unparalleled, and several of his etchings from 1890 are included in this collection. It is interesting to compare his monochrome images with Helena Markson’s (1934-2012) aquatints from 1964. The varied styles of intervening artists, such as Roderick Frederick Bisson’s (1910-1987) surreal watercolours from 1934 also show how different techniques prompted different reactions to the subject.
These images portray the Liverpool docks as a beautiful place, rather than a brutal and unforgiving environment. Many of the works depict scenes that no longer exist, provoking thoughtful reflections on the significance of time and place.