• Watercolours in Gallery Five

About the Artist/Exhibition

English Watercolours from the Williamson collection

The Victorian era saw Birkenhead, on the banks of the River Mersey, grow in importance as a maritime town with the development of the Docks and the Laird family firm of shipbuilders. The town’s first art gallery opened in 1912 in a former library building but bequests from John and Patrick Williamson, ship owners and shipping insurers, gave Birkenhead the opportunity to open its purpose-built art gallery and museum in 1928.

The core watercolour collection at the Williamson was being built from the early 1920’s in preparation for the new gallery in 1928 and continued particularly throughout the 1930’s: an effort was made to have work by all the signif

Turner, Vesuvius currently on show in The Atkinson, Southport

Turner, Vesuvius

icant British painters in watercolour and some very exceptional pictures are included: for instance, a painting that had formerly belonged to John Ruskin which will be on show in our joint exhibition with The Atkinson Gallery  Tinted Steam & Liquid Light: Watercolour Paintings from Turner to Sargent.

The Williamson now has over two thousand watercolours and drawings, of which this … is a selection of landscapes spanning the late 18th to the late 19th centuries. Future exhibitions will draw on other elements of the collection. Watercolours should not be displayed for long periods because they are vulnerable to light damage, the reason why this gallery is rather dark.

Frequent visitors will notice a new display of 26 watercolour paintings which prove watercolours are not simply landscapes. The new exhibition includes paintings on loan from the Grosvenor Museum in Chester, but originally from a Birkenhead collection, and a couple of recent acquisitions for the Williamson, not exhibited before. These will remain on show until summer 2017 (& possibly longer).

Telling Stories and Character Studies

Henry Meynell Rheam

Henry Meynell Rheam

Watercolours from the Williamson collection

This selection of paintings was made to highlight a rather unusual subject in watercolours, where figures are central. None of these is a straight portrait; they are not named or identified subjects; they represent work where figures are the main feature either to tell a story or to conjure up a mood or character. These began in the 18th century with visions of rural life, then sketches of street children or agricultural workers. In time however, as the status of watercolour rose, it was used in highly finished paintings for the fashionable market that could be bought more cheaply than oil paintings. Humorous subjects and book illustrations also feature strongly.

A full colour catalogue of that exhibition, drawn exclusively on the Williamson’s collection, is available for sale at the front desk.

Please note the whole gallery will be involved in our wedding fair on the weekend of 25th and 26th of February and this may mean that this exhibition is less accessible for viewing than normal.


Dates : January 2015 - Winter 2017
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