Manchester Art Gallery, History Immortalised in Art.
Manchester Art Gallery perhaps needs not an article to list why it deserves a visit. The building is an architectural icon in the Cityscape of Manchester, and along with the Lowry and the Whitworth is probably the most identifiable of the City’s public galleries.
Yet, Manchester Art Gallery is such a powerhouse in the art historical world that it needs to be said and said again, that any visitor to Manchester should make a stop at the Gallery. Any local should take note of such a monument of the City’s culture. Manchester Art Gallery is home to many works of national and international renown and houses one of the largest UK collections of British Art outside of London. What’s more is that Manchester Art Gallery is free to enter and open 7 days a week, so there really is no excuse not to visit. I recommend the gallery for anyone whom is interested in the development of the Western Art Historical canon and the relationship of the Art World with the City of Manchester throughout history.
An Industrial Boom makes for a Cornucopia of Culture.
The main gallery premises were built in 1823, and rather than occupy an art gallery, were done so to house a learned society of academics. The gallery is comprised of three connected buildings, the earliest two of which were designed by Sir Charles Barry and are listed. The third, interconnecting building was designed by Hopkins Architects prior to the gallery’s large-scale renovation and reopening in 2002.
A Collection Comprising Thousands of Items and Thousands of Years.
Manchester Art Gallery’s collection is truly impressive, comprising of over 2,000 oil paintings, 3,000 watercolours and drawings, 250 sculptures, 90 miniatures 1,000 prints and over 13,000 decorative art objects. Obviously not all of this is all on display at once, but what is displayed is curated both thoughtfully and with inclusivity in mind. The gallery follows a ‘race-track’ layout meaning, that once a visitor ascends its stunning marble stairway, they can make their way around a circular pathway, threading together different exhibition rooms, organised to display key points in art history.
Coinciding with the period of Manchester’s large industrial boom in the Nineteenth Century is the point in which the Gallery’s Collection is at its strongest – in its collection of Victorian art, namely that of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Many blockbuster paintings of the Brotherhood are held in the gallery, including works by Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti. In conjunction the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their rebellion against the academic standards of the British Academy are examples of the Victorian taste for Neo-classical art, which echoes the buildings architectural style. The Brotherhood, endeavoured to veer away from what was taught as ‘proper’ artistic practice, and found inspiration in much work from the Late Middle Ages. This was an attitude that was in stark contrast to their contemporaries, whom favoured the aesthetic ideals and precedents set from classical antiquity.
It certainly is an interesting experience to see which you prefer and to consult a debate with other 100 years of a history. Manchester Art Gallery allows you to do just that; see whether the languid and ethereal heroines of Rossetti’s ‘The Bower Meadow’, or the more statuesque rendition of the Ancient Greek poet ‘Sappho’ by Mengin is more to your taste.
The collection of course comprises much more than Victorian Art, but rather than list all the great canonical names that add to it, I implore you to investigate for yourself. The pieces are ubiquitously stunning and each visit will grant new experiences and insights. To round off your visit, stop off at the café, which offers delicious and locally sourced food to allow you to reflect upon and absorb your experience, or pick up a memento from the gift shop.
Whether you’re someone who wants to spend all day immersed in great art, or someone who wants to inject as much culture in their lunch break, Manchester Art Gallery is definitely something to think about, and will be something you will continue to think of in the months that follow.