ART GALLERY, GROSVENOR MUSEUM, CHESTER

 

The Art Gallery at the Grosvenor Museum was opened in 1989 by Sir Timothy Clifford, Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland. Most of the museum’s finest paintings are shown here, hung two deep against gold moiré and enhanced by sculpture and furniture. They illuminate the history of artistic practice and patronage in Cheshire and North Wales.

Although many of our portraits are shown elsewhere in the museum, some of the best are in the Art Gallery. A remarkable triple portrait of Mary Done, painted around 1635-38 by William Dobson, shows her contemplating her bust, which has closed eyes like a death mask. Her son Sir John Crewe, Chief Forester of Delamere, was painted in 1682 by John Michael Wright, one of the most cosmopolitan figures in 17th-century British art. An oil painting of 1820 by Henry Wyatt shows the great Neo-Classical architect Thomas Harrison in front of his masterpiece, Chester Castle. An enchanting portrait of Richard, Earl of Madeley, the three-year-old son of the 1st Marquess of Crewe, was painted in 1914 by Philip de László, one of the most celebrated portrait painters in Europe. A vigorous oil sketch of Sybil, Countess of Rocksavage, later Marchioness of Cholmondeley, painted by Charles Sims in 1922, provides a fascinating insight into the portraitist’s creative process. The most recent portrait in the gallery is a brilliant likeness of Canon Maurice Ridgway, the great expert on Chester silver, painted by Paul Brason in 1994.

Chester is England’s most picturesque city, enclosing two thousand years of history within the two-mile circuit of her walls. She has inspired artists for more than four centuries, and the museum houses over seven hundred pictures of the city. A painting of Chester by the Flemish artist Pieter Tillemans, dating between 1710 and 1734, shows horseracing on the Roodee in front of the City Walls. A painting of 1831 by David Hodgson shows the Exchange, built in the 1690s to house the Corporation and an assembly room, and demolished after a fire in 1862. A mid-19th-century view shows the Cathedral before the major restoration in 1868-76, when much of its soft red sandstone exterior was refaced. Another mid-19th-century painting by W. White shows the King Charles Tower, on which Charles I stood in 1645 while his army was being defeated by the Parliamentarians at Rowton Moor. A view of The Lock Gates, Chester, was painted in 1933 by the Camden Town artist Charles Ginner.

As well as pictures of Chester, the museum houses scenes of Cheshire and North Wales, including a view of Chirk Castle, painted by Felix Kelly about 1955. A painting by the Irish artist George Barret Senior, dating from around 1770, shows the dramatic, ivy-clad ruin of Beeston Castle. The most recent work of art in the gallery is a view of Henbury Hall, Britain’s finest post-War Classical country house, painted by Carl Laubin in 2006.

In addition to paintings of local people and places, the gallery shows the work of local artists, such as a view of Gordale Scar, painted in 1772 by Samuel Stringer of Knutsford. A view of Thirlmere, painted in the early 1790s by the Cheshire-born artist John Rathbone, has figures by the better-known George Morland, with whom he frequently collaborated. Chester’s greatest sporting artist was William Tasker, noted for his portraits of winners at the Chester races, and the gallery includes his painting of Millipede from 1843. Furniture makes a notable contribution to the gallery and includes a card table, veneered with rosewood and inlaid with brass, which is signed and dated 1824 by the Chester cabinetmaker John Crewe McKay. This is complemented by an elegant suite of 1870s Directoire-style furniture in the manner of Georges Jacob, made of grey-painted beech and upholstered with Beauvais tapestry.

Sculpture plays a prominent role in the gallery, and includes a low-relief plaster medallion of about 1852 by the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Alexander Munro depicting Constance, Countess Grosvenor, later Duchess of Westminster. In 1879 her brother, Lord Ronald Gower, made a bronze statuette of the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, who lived at Hawarden Castle near Chester. Inspired by the grandeur and drama of Romantic music, Catafalque for Anton Bruckner is a magnificent bronze sculpture of 1981 by Michael Sandle, who studied at Chester School of Art and is one of the finest sculptors in the world.

As well as local artists and subjects, the history of art collecting in the Chester area is represented in the gallery, with works such as Feeding the Ducks, a highly-finished painting of the mid-19th century by John Frederick Herring Senior, which came from Hoole Hall. The history of collecting in Cheshire has also brought to the gallery a small group of paintings by artists from continental Europe. The earliest painting is Christ Blessing by the studio of Quinten Metsys, the leading artist in early 16th century Antwerp, which shows Jesus as the saviour of the world. The Virgin and Child with the Infant Baptist, probably painted by Johann König in Augsburg about 1616, shows the Christ Child accepting his future death on the Cross. Also dating from the 17th century is Diana the Huntress, painted in Bruges by Jacob van Oost the Elder. This richly decorative painting, showing the Classical goddess of the moon, provides a splendid centrepiece to the gallery.