A visit to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston always turns up something new and interesting. Next time you visit see if you can find the following nine items that might offer some surprises or new insights.Advertisement
On the stairs between the first and second floors you will find a painting, ‘Two women’ by Walter Sickert, 1911. A member of the impressionist influenced ‘Camden’ school of painting, Sickert was a chronicler of London life, usually at the seedier end. Not so well known however is that he is considered by many, chiefly crime writer Patricia Cornwell, to be a prime suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders. This has not yet been definitively settled either way.
One artist who was definitely a murderer was Richard Dadd, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was committed to Bedlam hospital in 1843, and subsequently to Broadmoor, for murdering his father. His painting ‘Puck’, in the fine art gallery, is typical of his highly detailed fantasy scenes. He continued to paint, and indeed created most of his masterpieces, even after his incarceration. He died in Broadmoor in 1886.
Typical of many of the Harris’s sometimes quirky collections is the group of over fifty pairs of early spectacles, to be found on the second floor. This collection charts the early evolution of specs, and shows how far we have come from rudimentary attempts to correct poor vision, to today’s high tech solutions
The Poulton Elk discovered in 1970, will be familiar to most Prestonians, but did you know that scars on the skeleton have been attributed to hunters, and are the earliest evidence of human habitation in the North West, some 13,000 years ago?
Another familiar piece is ‘Why war’ painted by Charles Spencelayh. The remarkable thing about this piece is that it was painted in 1938, a year before the outbreak of WW2, and represents a clear premonition of the horrors to come. The old man in the picture wears the classic ‘Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred ‘ medal ribbons of a WW1 veteran.
Tucked away on the first floor amongst an extensive ceramic collection is what is considered by many to be a classic piece of ‘Parian ware’, a type of porcelain that closely resembles marble. ‘Veiled bride’, modelled by Raffaele Monti in 1861, is an exquisite bust of a young lady on her wedding day. The artistry and artisanship represented is a classic of the great 19th century ceramic tradition.
In the ‘Discover Preston’ room, overlooking the Flag market, is a beautiful stained glass window. The figures in the glass represent Greek Artists, scientists, and philosophers such as Homer, Sophocles, and Euclid. This piece ties in with the Greek theme represented around the outside of the building, and the friezes to be found throughout the interior. All of this represents the Victorian aspiration to ‘improve’ the minds of patrons.
On the same theme of inspiring patrons to self improvement, and often overlooked despite their size and magnificence, is the cast of the bronze Florence Baptistery doors, to be found on what is now the ground floor cafe. The originals were made by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the 15th century for what remains as one of the oldest buildings in Florence, and were admired by Michelangelo.
Finally, and not an obvious work of art, are the magnificent original cast iron radiators found throughout the building. Cast in Belfast by Musgrave & co they are responsible for heating this huge open plan building, and do so with typical 19th century efficiency without detracting from the clean lines of the neo-classical structure.
The Harris is the jewel in Preston’s crown and, as well as the above, contains works by L S Lowry, Stanley Spencer, Lucian Freud, Jacob Epstein, and many other world renowned artists. As well as the fine art and the museum collections there is also a re-vamped ‘Discover Preston’ room which is a ‘must visit’ for any Prestonian. If you haven’t popped in recently now is the time, and it’s free.