English Watercolours from the Williamson collection
in Gallery Five at the Williamson Art Gallery on show until April 2016
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 and continued particularly throughout the 1930’s: an effort was made to have work by all the significant British painters in watercolour and some very exceptional pictures are included: for instance, a JMW Turner that had formerly belonged to John Ruskin.
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.
The selection here comes from a group of over 100 paintings that was chosen by Hugh Belsey and Claudio Spadoni for an exhibition in 2004 at Ravenna, in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, the first major British watercolour show in that country for many years.
A full colour catalogue of that exhibition, drawn exclusively on the Williamson’s collection, is available for sale from the front desk.