Liverpool Walker Art Gallery Artwork of the Month – September 2007
‘Elijah in the Wilderness’, by Sir Frederic Leighton
About the artwork
Although this picture did not arrive in the gallery until 1879, after first being exhibited in Paris, it was specifically commissioned for the Walker Art Gallery in the year that it opened, 1877. The man who commissioned it was a local wealthy chemical manufacturer, Andrew Kurtz [1825 – 1890]. He had decided that the gallery should have a painting by perhaps the most celebrated and successful British painter of the late nineteenth century, Sir Frederic Leighton.
According to his diaries, Kurtz had wanted a picture from Leighton ‘…dealing with female beauty’ but he eventually left the subject for the Walker picture entirely for the artist to decide. Leighton wrote to tell him that the subject was to be the Angel feeding Elijah, that the figures were to be life-size and that the picture would measure 7 feet by 8 feet.
Grove House, Penny Lane
Kurtz lived in Grove House, Penny Lane; in recent years known as Dovedale Towers but now newly re-branded as a restaurant/bar/night-club, Alma de Santiago. He was the owner of the Sutton Alkali works in Saint Helens. His father who had been born in Germany, purchased the factory in 1842 and when he died four years later, Andrew Kurtz aged 21 inherited the factory.
Although music, literature art and drama were his principal interests, he developed the factory until it was one of the biggest chemical works in the area. Kurtz was a paternalistic employer building public baths, hospitals and co-operative stores for his workers. Politically he was a Liberal and his philanthropy did not prevent him from polluting South Lancashire. He clashed with Tory landowners who wanted to restrict pollution from the chemical industries in St Helens. He simply and shamelessly denounced their efforts as a political trick. Kurtz was primarily a patron of music, and a talented pianist with an extensive collection of original music scores by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn.
Free gallery talks Monday 10 and Tuesday 25 September 2007, 13.00