Sunday, 23 March 2008

Soap, Art and Napoleon: The Lady Lever Art Gallery

Continuing on the art theme, but also developing one of my other themes - English/British attitudes towards Napoleon.

A very short look then at one of the most successful nineteenth century entrepreneurs, William Hesketh Lever, later Lord Leverhulme(1851-1925).

Lever founded his fortune on soap, and was the first to buy art for use in advertising.

He built a model village at Port Sunlight for his employees. A place which has been well preserved and is well worth a visit.

Some bridled at Lever's authoritarianism - he would not allow the workers to keep chickens in their gardens, or to grow vegetables, although he did provide allotments - but the standard of life for Lever's workers was far better than for others in similar employ at the time.

Lever believed in the importance of art to individual improvement and therefore to social progress. As part of his model village he constructed the Lever Free Library and Museum in 1903, and later the Lady Lever Art Gallery(1922).

Napoleon was Lever's political hero.(1) At his home in Thornton Manor he used to dine in full evening dress at a 25ft-long Anglo-Indian rosewood dining table, made for the Emperor Napoleon III. In his music room hung George Richmond's painting, Napoleon Reading His letter of Abdication.

When the Lady Lever Art Gallery was built, it had a large Napoleon Room (since reduced in size) to house his collection of pictures, sculptures and furniture and other objects ostensibly connected with Napoleon. Napoleon Room, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Among the pictures is William Quiller Orchardson's,
St. Helena 1816 - Napoleon dictating to Count Las Cases the Account of his campaigns.

This art gallery is a delightful place to visit, even for those who have no interest in Napoleon. Lady Lever Collections

(1) The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Bluecoat Press, Liverpool 1996 p. 40. Lever was a Liberal MP for a short time before the First World War, as was his contemporary, the shipping magnate Sir Walter Runciman, another Napoleonist, who wrote The Tragedy of St. Helena.


Hels said...

I wish I had read your blog, before I wrote my posts on:
1. Port Sunlight (some months ago) and
2. Napoleonic artefacts in Melbourne (last week).
It is an eerily small world.

many thanks

John Tyrrell said...

I will have a look at your posts. I have incidentally recently written another blog on Lord Lever and Port Sunlight, as part of my Northwest tour with Albert Benhamou.