World Museum Liverpool | The Museum of Liverpool | The Merseyside Maritime Museum
The Walker Art Gallery | The Lady Lever Art Gallery | Sudley House
William Hesketh Lever was a successful businessman known for his Sunlight Soap brand. He had started collecting artworks so that he could use the images in advertisements for his soap. However, he soon moved on to obtaining items that were to his own personal taste, so he didn't have to restrict his searches to paintings of attractive women and children in white clothes. During his lifetime he amassed more than 20,000 items for his collection, including paintings, sculptures, embroidery, furniture and ceramics.
Lever bought the items for his own pleasure, but also took pleasure in exhibiting the items so that other people could enjoy them too. Initially, he used the library in Port Sunlight to display some of his purchases, then he took over Hulme Hall in the village. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1913, he decided that a purpose-built museum and art gallery should be constructed as a tribute to her. Lever was made a Baronet in 1911, so his wife became Lady Lever at that time. He became a Lord in 1917, and took the name Leverhulme as Elizabeth's maiden name was Hulme.
The Gallery was constructed on land at the northern edge of the Port Sunlight area and was designed in a classical style by architects William and Segar Owen. King George V laid the foundation stone in 1914 by pressing a button on a scale model to activate a winch on the building site. The Gallery was formally opened by Princess Beatrice1 in 1922.
Today the Lady Lever Art Gallery is part of National Museums Liverpool and entrance is free, although donations are welcomed. Its paintings are available in digital form on the BBC YourPaintings website. It holds impressive collections of Wedgwood pottery, Chinese ceramics and an exhibition about Lord Leverhulme himself. There are also several pre-Raphaelite paintings there, including 'Bubbles' by Millais that was used in a soap advert and then obtained by Unilever, the company formed after Lord Leverhulme's death from a merger of his business with the company Margarine Unie.
There is a large circular sculpture gallery at each end of the building, one with a male focus and the other with a female focus, providing a symmetry and balance to the Museum as well as bringing to mind the influence of the Levers' marriage on the building. The sculpture in pride of place in one room dates from 130 AD and depicts Antinous, the young man who was the Roman Emperor Hadrian's beloved. In the other room, an 1899 sculpture of Salammbo, the sister of Hannibal from the 3rd Century BC, is on display. Other sculptures and marble artefacts are arranged around them in each room. Furniture and textiles are on display in 'Period Rooms'. The central gallery on the upper floor is home to paintings and sculptures including portraits of William and Elizabeth, and is used as a concert hall for special events.
Temporary exhibitions change regularly; recent displays include works by 'The last pre-Raphaelite' Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale, and a selection of Turner's watercolours, prints and oil paintings.
A programme of refurbishment commenced in 2014, so the south (feminine) end of the building was closed. When it reopened in 2016, the decor of the Sculpture Room had been restored to its original glory. 'Napoleon's Bedroom' features extremely bright lighting, rather than being dimly lit as if for nighttime as before, and the descriptions of the artefacts are only available by using one of two touchscreen computers. However, the Wedgwood Pottery Room and Chinese Rooms are much improved. There are clear descriptions of items, rather than the faded typewriter-text on yellowed paper that can still be seen in a few places around the Gallery. Touchscreen computers provide more detail about key pieces, such as the statue of the goddess Guanyin. Other computers include games and quizzes, and a Mandarin writing tutorial.
The Lady Lever Art Gallery is open every day from 10am to 5pm except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. There is some parking outside the Gallery, including two spaces for Blue Badge holders just by the main entrance. On the lower floor there is an accessible toilet and standard toilets. There is an activity room for children, an education room where workshops are held, and a shop selling books, jewellery and crafts. The café serves hot and cold food, tea and cakes. Both floors are accessible via ramps, and there is a lift as well.
Activities for children, exhibition-themed events and workshops are scheduled throughout the year. Up to date information can be found on the Lady Lever Art Gallery website.