Room eight

High Victorian art

room 8

The prosperity of late Victorian Britain was reflected in its cultural life. Painters became rich as their work was bought by wealthy merchants and manufacturers. Opulent private collections were formed, and public-spirited municipalities founded museums and galleries, such as the Walker, which opened in 1877.

The Victorians made the distinction between High Art – the representation of great events from classic literature, history, mythology and the Bible – and what they regarded as lower forms of art – realistic landscapes, scenes of everyday life and animal paintings. The former demanded, above all, the rendering of thought and emotion. The latter was more reliant upon technical and imitative skills. High Art, with its huge scale and its idealistic intention to uplift people’s minds, was more suited to public galleries than to private collections.

High Art is represented in this room through three main stylistic movements. Firstly, the Classical Revival, led by Leighton and Poynter, took mainly Greek and Roman subjects and aimed at a classical ideal of beauty. Secondly, the later work of the Pre-Raphaelites, such as Rossetti and Hunt, expressed spiritual and poetic ideas in a more personal form. Finally, running through both was the cult of “art for art’s sake”, known as the Aesthetic Movement. This is typified by the harmonious compositions of Albert Moore, with their emphasis on form and colour rather than on telling a story.

Room highlights

Also in this room:

  • 'The Triumph of the Innocents', William Holman Hunt
  • 'Athlete struggling with a python', Frederic Leighton
  • 'Dante and Beatrice', Henry Holiday
  • 'Perseus and Andromeda', Frederic Leighton
  • 'The Punishment of Lust', Giovanni Segantini
  • 'Bust of Henry Wordsworth Longfellow', Edmonia Lewis
  • 'A summer night', Albert Moore
  • 'The sense of sight', Annie Louisa Swynnerton
  • 'A Young Amir Studying', Osman Hamdi

Room displays can change due to loans, conservation work and display renewal. If you intend to visit the Walker Art Gallery to see a particular artwork, please telephone 0151 478 4199 beforehand to check the artwork is on display.