The Walker Art Gallery is set to receive an early Christmas present in the form of Lawrence Stephen Lowry’s painting The Liver Buildings, Liverpool, which will be displayed at the Gallery on long term loan from Friday 8 December.
The painting depicts vessels on the River Mersey, with three of Liverpool’s most famous buildings dominating the skyline. Fondly referred to as the “Three Graces,” these iconic buildings comprise the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building.
The easily recognisable scene evokes the bustle of river life on the Mersey in the 1950s. Using a broad colour palette ranging from whites and greys through to blues, greens and ochre, the painting provides an exciting demonstration of Lowry’s artistic skills.
Ann Bukantas, Head of Fine Art at National Museums Liverpool, said: “The Gallery has been interested in displaying this painting for more than a decade, after we were given an opportunity to examine it closely and carry out further research into it.
“Lowry painted only a small number of Liverpool scenes, therefore this work is very rare. To receive it on long term loan and make it available to our visitors is truly fantastic. It’s the perfect early Christmas present for art lovers in Liverpool and we look forward to hearing people’s responses to the painting.”
The lively vessels on the water provide a focal point to The Liver Buildings, Liverpool (probably painted in 1950). Lowry (1887–1976) is renowned for his ‘matchstick people’ – stick-like depictions of people going about their working lives. In the absence of people, the vessels add a sense of movement and life to the artwork. The artist has concentrated on some of the less glamorous working boats on the river rather than the large liners.
The largest vessel resembles the type that would trade around the coast or across the Irish Sea, while a small boat in the foreground of the painting has the appearance of a tug. He has also captured gig boats – open boats that would work between the land and ships, carrying supplies and ropes.
The painting was last displayed at the Walker in 1973 as part of a Lowry exhibition held to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Liverpool Trades Council. It will now be displayed alongside two other works by the artist: The Waterloo Dock, Liverpool (1962), also on loan to the Gallery, and The Fever Van (1935), part of the Walker’s collection.
Lowry was born in Salford, Manchester. He worked as a clerk and later as a rent collector, painting in his spare time and attending art classes after work for almost 20 years. He travelled across the UK painting scenes of industrial life in his unique style, which often used simple shapes and primary colours, set against a white background.
Lowry admired the Walker Art Gallery and correspondence letters from his lifetime indicate that he enjoyed visiting. He collected work by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and would likely have appreciated seeing his artwork on show at the Gallery.
The Liver Buildings, Liverpool was formerly owned by Mr AD Fisher. He was the head accountant at the Aintree-based Vernons football pools company. Fisher and the company’s managing director George Kennerley together acquired 33 Lowry paintings in 1970. They had an interest in the artist long before he became popular.
The Fisher / Kennerley collection of paintings were exhibited at Crane Kalman Gallery, London, in 1984, when The Liver Buildings, Liverpool was sold to a private collection. It remained there until the renewed involvement of Crane Kalman Gallery led to the painting’s recent arrival at the Walker.