Finding myself on The Wirral with a few hours to spare gave me a chance to explore Port Sunlight, the very distinctive mini-town built by Lord Lever to provide homes for his loyal workers in the soap manufacturing business. The centrepiece is the Lady Lever Gallery and it houses some fascinating pieces, ranging from Victorian furniture to tapestries and from ‘Napoleon-ana’ to Wedgwood pots, and with sculptures ancient and modern. For me the highlight was the Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun portrait of Lady Hamilton in the guise of a Bacchante (ie as a follower of Bacchus). Painted around 1792 this is one of four portraits of Emma known to have been painted by Vigée-Lebrun during her stay in Naples between 1790 and 1792. As such, Emma would just have married the besotted Sir William Hamilton. This pose, typical of her ‘attitudes’, has a lovely flowing quality. I gather that the artist was most impressed by Emma’s mass of flowing chestnut hair – but was not so impressed by the girl’s lack of intelligence and dress sense – or by her Liverpudlian accent. Purists will tell me that Emma was not Liverpudlian – she was born on the Wirral not far from where her portrait is now hanging.
Soap magnate William Hesketh Lever bought the painting in 1903 – and to me it was a star of the show.
I was also delighted to see the two paintings by Henry Robert Morland -‘ Laundry’ and ‘Ironing’. Well worth seeing.
Another ‘old friend’ I was interested in seeing was this Nollekens bust of Charles James Fox – I gather that it is one of a handful churned out either by Nollekens personally, or by craftsmen in his studio.
The Lady Lever Art Gallery houses much else of interest and will definitely merit a return visit when I am next in the area. Mind you, it is a six hour drive, given the state of the traffic on our roads leading up to an August Bank Holiday….