Blessed with major works by leading Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite artists, Arts Council England Designated collections, and exquisitely-preserved interiors that date back to the 19th century, the North of England is one of the best places to appreciate the artistic preoccupations of the Victorian era. From the ‘salon’ hung paintings at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, displayed in the tessellated style of the time, to the huge murals in the entrance hall at Wallington, created by Victorian artist and close Pre-Raphaelite associate William Bell Scott, the galleries and stately houses here are an impressive and varied showcase. Liverpool, the only regional city to have established its own Pre-Raphaelite school, is a destination for superb works from the period in its own right: alongside the outstanding collections at Sudley House and the Walker Art Gallery, is William Holman Hunt’s masterpiece The Scapegoat at Lady Lever Art Gallery.
Manchester and Salford are also an important hub, with an internationally-renowned selection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings among the Designated collection at Manchester Art Gallery, over 100 Victorian works on display at Salford Art Gallery, and 12 extraordinary murals by Ford Madox Brown decorating the walls at Manchester Town Hall (due to open again in 2024). Equally, those willing to explore will find masterpieces amongst the formidable collections across the region, often the behests of wealthy northern industrialists, lawyers and philanthropists: Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery holds Frederick Lord Leighton’s much lauded Cherries, Mother and Child, regularly in demand for international loans, while Sheffield’s Graves Gallery is home to The Hours by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, which took 12 years to complete.
Dedicated collections such as at the Panelled Room at Tullie House, which celebrates Pre-Raphaelite patron George Howard, and at The Ruskin Library in Lancaster, which houses the largest collection of era-defining critic John Ruskin’s works in the world, give an essential insight into the ideas and aesthetic ideals of the time. So, too, do the surviving Victorian interiors at Cragside House and Blackwell House, the latter of which was designed to follow the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Read on to discover more about the extraordinary Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite assets at all of these cultural institutions – and others across the North.
Here are our picks
Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester, Greater Manchester, M2 3JL - Visit now
Manchester Art Gallery is rare in having an Arts Council England Designated Collection, an accolade reserved for collections of ‘outstanding resonance, which deepen our understanding of the world’. Included in the gallery’s holdings, alongside a major strand of Victorian paintings, is a world-famous selection of Pre-Raphaelite works, including masterpieces by artists such as William Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The legacy of the gallery’s Victorian predecessors, these pieces reflect the core themes of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, including storytelling, nature and modern life – and have played a significant role in the institution’s history. In 1913, Suffragettes broke the glass of 13 paintings, including some of the most famous late Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite works, in protest at the harsh sentencing of Emmeline Pankhurst to three years penal servitude. In 2018, the temporary removal of Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse from display elicited a huge public response – a debate that the gallery continues to engage with today.
Tullie House, Castle Street, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA3 8TP - Visit now
Tullie House combines a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion with the modern addition of a new wing in 1990, which houses the Border Galleries. Among the museum and art gallery’s 5,500 strong Fine Art collection is a significant suite of Pre-Raphaelite works by artists including Elizabeth Siddal, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown. A recently-curated display in Old Tullie House throws focus on women’s roles within the movement – as artists, models and symbols of morality. The new hang showcases key pieces including Elisabeth Siddal’s St Agnes’ Eve, and Death of Lady Macbeth by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The collection in the gallery’s beautiful Panelled Room has also recently been redisplayed, this time to highlight the role of Pre-Raphaelite patron and artist in his own right, George Howard. Alongside important works by artists from the movement are ceramics, textiles and metalwork from the Arts and Crafts movement, including four William Morris pieces.
Laing Art Gallery, New Bridge Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8AG - Visit now
Founded by the owner of a thriving wine shop and beer bottling company, Laing Art Gallery began life with no collection whatsoever; Alexander Laing believed that the people of Newcastle would contribute the works needed. Over time, they did: important gifts and bequests from prominent public figures and successful industrialists helped to build a collection that’s now of Designated status, with the Victorian period particularly well represented amongst the selection of British paintings, ceramic and glassware. Also on show as part of the 18th and 19th century displays is William Holman-Hunt’s Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece Isabella and the Pot of Basil; one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Hunt took Keats’ poem ‘Isabella, or the Pot of Basil’, as his inspiration, representing a woman mourning over a vessel containing the head of her murdered lover. Symbols such as the skulls painted on the pot itself both hint at the painting’s backstory, and reflect the symbolic richness of the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic.
Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L3 8EL - Visit now
Though subsequently phenomenally popular, works by the Pre-Raphaelite movement were initially maligned when they first began to be exhibited. Liverpool, which would go on to be the only regional city to have its own school of Pre-Raphaelite artists, was also an early champion of the work, with the Liverpool Academy repeatedly awarding its annual prize to artists from the movement. The Walker Art Gallery’s preeminent collection stems, in part, from this patronage: now featured in the permanent collection are works by Holman-Hunt and Rossetti, as well as John Everett Millais’ first concertedly pre-Raphaelite work, Isabella. Neighbouring rooms focus on Victorian Narrative Painting and Victorian High Art 1860 – 1900, which demonstrate the breadth of the aesthetic at the time, with different movements prefacing the importance of nature, decoration or the representation of great events from history and literature on canvas. Also featured within the gallery’s 8,000 strong collection of works on paper are important Pre-Raphaelite watercolours and sketches.
Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight Village, Wirral, CH62 5EQ - Visit now
Lady Lever Art Gallery was established by William Hesketh Lever, owner of an astronomically successful soap-making business, in memory of his wife Elizabeth. The gallery was gifted with a collection that had begun as a form of advertising for the company, with images of artworks used on packaging; the marketing ploy shifted into a personal hobby, however, with Lever collecting more than 20,000 works of art in his lifetime. Today, the gallery holds an internationally renowned selection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, including The Scapegoat by Holman Hunt, one of the movement’s best known works, as well as The Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A special group of key paintings by leading Victorian artists also features in a collection notable for its breadth, and for its unparalleled selection of Wedgwood Jasperware; at the same time, the gallery is actively engaged in conversations around the source of Lever’s wealth, including activity in West Africa between 1911 to 1925, to better acknowledge the problematic providence of the collection.
Graves Gallery, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 2LH - Visit now
A restful haven in Sheffield city centre, the Graves Gallery sits above Central Library, lifted above the bustle at street level. Here, you’ll find an unassuming collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, including paintings by first and second generation artists in the Brotherhood. Portrait of a Musician by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, In the Grass by Arthur Hughes and The Hours by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones are among the most significant works, the latter of which took 12 years to complete due to its complex detail. Also of note in Sheffield is the Ruskin Collection, held at the neighbouring Millennium Gallery: the leading Victorian art critic, writer and champion of the Pre-Raphaelite movement established a philanthropic society, the Guild of St George, to found a museum for the workers of Sheffield, supplied by a collection of artworks, illustrated books, geological specimens and medieval manuscripts. The items on display are changed twice a year to best showcase the breadth of the collection.
Sudley House Art Gallery, Mossley Hill Road, Liverpool, Merseyside, L188BX - Visit now
Further evidence of Liverpool’s standing as a city rich with Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite collections, Sudley House in Mossley Hill is filled with the only surviving intact collection of artworks once owned by a mercantile family – amassed by ship builder George Holt from both inherited and earned wealth, and a shining example of 18th and 19th century British painting. Featuring works by Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti, the Sudley House collection is hung throughout the historic house, with several works still occupying their original positions. Encounter paintings by Burne-Jones and Millais in the Entrance Hall, Frederic Lord Leighton in the Garden hall and Thomas Gainsborough in the Dining Room, as well as many more. Slowly being restored after the Liverpool Corporation, which later became National Museums Liverpool, reconfigured the rooms both upstairs and down in the 1940s, Sudley House still remains replete with original features, including stunning floors, embossed wallpaper and ornate cornices.
Blackwell, The Arts and Crafts House, Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House, Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, LA23 3JT - Visit now
Parallel to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and at points overlapping, the Arts and Crafts Movement sought to reinstate craftsman-level standards in design and decoration, in the face of a perceived decline as a result of industrial manufacturing. Blackwell House is a shining example of architecture in the Arts and Crafts style; designed by Mackay Hugh Bailey Scott, the Grade I listed property is a symphony in traditional skills, with nearly all of its original features having survived. A variety of crafts are in evidence across the exquisite fireplace tiles, wood and stone carving, mosaic floors, plasterwork and wrought iron, with furniture from specialist Arts and Crafts designers completing the rooms. The great hall is truly spectacular, with a minstrel’s gallery, ornate carvings and a window inglenook. The house also boasts views over both Windermere and Coniston Fells, a tea room in the old scullery and kitchen, and terraced gardens landscaped by Arts & Crafts garden designer Thomas Mawson.
Wallington, Wallington, Cambo, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 4AR - Visit now
Scottish artist William Bell Scott, close associate of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, is responsible for the set of huge murals in the entrance hall at Wallington, a grand National Trust property in Northumberland. Set within 13,000 acres of woodland, hills and pleasure gardens, this historic house is home to Scott’s notable series of eight large wall paintings, depicting the history of the area across 2,000 years in vibrant colours, and featuring recognisable figures from the time. The entrance hall they decorate was once an open courtyard, only roofed over in the 1850s as part of the changes wrought on the house over the years. In between the central panels of Scott’s paintings are pillars, also decorated, this time with floral designs by other individuals associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement: John Ruskin and English painter and illustrator Arthur Hughes. Explore the rest of the house to find further treasures, including a room filled with Victorian dolls’ houses. The most elaborate has 36 rooms, 1,500 pieces of furniture, tiny electric lights, and was once supplied with running water.
Cragside House, Rothbury, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE65 7PX - Visit now
This utterly extraordinary National Trust property not only boasts Victorian interiors that are impressively well preserved – the decoration here is itself superlative. Featuring designs by William Morris, Rossetti, Philip Webb and Burne-Jones, the rooms at Cragside House are also filled with inventions many years before their time, including a primitive dishwasher, internal telephone communication, a rotating spit in the kitchen and hydro-electric lights. The Drawing Room is the centrepiece of the house, dominated by an enormous marble fireplace and fitted with an elliptical glass ceiling, while the grounds were approached with equal levels of ambition. The owners, Lord and Lady Armstrong, oversaw the planting of 7million trees on the 1,000 acre estate, as well as the creation of garden ‘rooms’, each unique and extraordinary in its own way. This 19th century Victorian vision has resulted in a Pinetum, filled with non-native conifers, that includes five out of the ten tallest trees of this kind in the UK.
The Ruskin Library, Lancashire, The Ruskin - Library, Museum and Research Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA1 4YW - Visit now
John Ruskin was a leading Victorian writer, critic, artist and social thinker – a keen supporter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of wide-ranging work by Victorian artists and a seriously talented painter in his own right. Ruskin’s ideas both shaped the cultural ideology of his day, and preempted modern preoccupations including climate change, sustainability and the decline of traditional skills. The Ruskin Library, alongside Brantwood, Ruskin’s home in the Lake District, houses the world’s largest collection of Ruskin’s works including 1,500 drawings and prints, as well as photographs, daguerreotypes, letters, manuscripts and paintings. The RIBA Award-winning building, designed by Sir Richard MacCormac, was intended to echo Ruskin’s fascination with Venice; built at the entrance to Lancaster University, just south of Lancaster itself, the library, museum and research centre benefits from dramatic views towards the sea. A double height entrance leads on to the archive storage, reading room, offices and public gallery spaces beyond, preserving and presenting the work of a man whose ideas helped define an era.
Beverley Art Gallery, East Riding, Champney Road, Beverley, Yorkshire, HU17 8HE - Visit now
Founded by textile industrialist Edward Champney in 1910, Beverley Art Gallery in the East Riding of Yorkshire is a lovingly restored Edwardian art gallery that’s home to a permanent collection built around Victorian, Edwardian and modern art. The selection of works is bolstered by Champney’s personal collection: born to noble parents in the market town, Champney took over his uncle Edward Ackroyd’s profitable textiles mill, and later channeled his interest in fine art through the acquisition of pieces by leading British painters. These include Victorian watercolourist Helen Allingham, Maidstone-born artist Albert Goodwin, whose output demonstrates the influence of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as close friend and collaborator with the Brotherhood Arthur Hughes, who saw his first work exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery aged just 17. Champney also gifted money to Beverley public library, above which the gallery sits; the entrance can be found through Treasure House museum.
The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2PP - Visit now
An endowment by Richard Newsham, a successful lawyer from Preston, was the foundation for the city’s collection in 1883. The bequest comprised a notable selection of Victorian art, with Newsham having acquired work from many of the esteemed artists of the time. These included paintings by William Powell Frith, a Yorkshire-born artist whose mature work often centred around crowded, narrative scenes, Matthew Edward Ward, who was commissioned to produce eight paintings for the Palace of Westminster in 1852, and David Roberts, a Scottish landscape painter of international renown. Newsham’s tastes rarely strayed towards the avant-garde or experimental, with the exception of a rare watercolour by William Holman Hunt: The Sphinx, Gaza. This is the only work in the collection by an artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Since Newsham’s donation, the permanent collection at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery has been continually added to, and now includes works across most mediums from the 12th century to the present day.
Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Peel Park, The Crescent, Salford, Greater Manchester, M5 4WU - Visit now
Salford Art Gallery stands out amongst the inclusions in this guide for not having inherited an existing collection when the gallery opened in 1850, instead building its permanent holdings from scratch. Today, the gallery houses over 2,000 paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints in a Grade II listed building, with Victorian art dominating, alongside a smaller but still significant selection of 20th century British art. A dedicated Victorian Gallery was created in the 1980s to showcase the most notable pieces; it now displays over 100 Victorian works from artists including English landscape and maritime painter E.W. Cooke, whose Bay of Tangier, Morocco was donated from the collection of leading art dealer Thomas Agnew. Other gifts followed, such as The Meeting of Jacob and Esau from Manchester engineering company Mather and Platt, created by G.F. Watts – an artist widely considered to be one of the Victorian ‘greats’. Today, Salford Museum and Art Gallery is home to one of the largest repositories of art in the Greater Manchester region.
Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Museum St, Blackburn, Lancashire, BB1 7AJ - Visit now
There are 66 paintings on display in the dedicated Victorian gallery at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, a space that was added to the existing building in 1894. It’s a collection that reflects key themes from the aesthetic of the period, including regency scenes, maritime settings and a prevalence of moral acts. Blackburn’s status as a rising industrial town in the 19th century occasioned several bequests from wealthy, philanthropic families, including a collection owned by Mrs Richard Barton Dodgson. Comprised of 59 works, the donation featured pieces by J.M.W. Turner and preeminent watercolourist David Cox. Representing the Pre-Raphaelites at the gallery is Love of the Winds and the Seasons by Albert Moore, whose early works were in keeping with the movement’s preoccupations, while Frederick Lord Leighton’s exquisite work, Cherries: Mother and Child, is regularly in demand internationally. Other notable names can be found among the gallery’s watercolour collection – with the public granted the advantage of being able to make appointments to see rare and delicate items.
Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square , Manchester, Greater Manchester, M60 2LA - Visit now
Under wraps for now of course, but in the Great Hall at Manchester Town Hall are a series of paintings that mark the culmination of the career of a great Victorian artist, Ford Madox Brown. Commissioned to produce 12 murals depicting scenes from the history of the city, Brown worked from 1879 until the year of his death in 1893 on a remarkable suite of paintings that emphasised the importance of commerce, Christianity and the textiles industry in Manchester’s past. Carefully researched in aid of accuracy, these works evidence the mature style of an artist commonly allied with the Pre-Raphaelites, but who was both senior to the core members of the Brotherhood, and more interested in what academic Kathryn Hughes has referred to as ‘the dilemmas of the present’. Brown’s concern for the awkwardness of reality is refreshingly evident in panels depicting English chemist and atomic theorist John Dalton balanced in some undergrowth to collect marsh fire gas, and John Kay, inventor of a fly shuttle that mechanised weaving, making an undignified escape from rioters in a sheet.
Ferens Art Gallery, Queen Victoria Square, Carr Lane, Hull, East Yorkshire, HU1 3RA - Visit now
Head to Hull to visit the magnificent collection of paintings and sculptures at Ferens Art Gallery – including an entire gallery dedicated to Victorian and Edwardian art. Among the works on show here are masterpieces by great artists from the era, including two works by Frederic Lord Leighton. Farewell and Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon are two remarkable paintings by an artist who won numerous national and international awards, was commissioned by Queen Victoria and who eventually became the President of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1878. Joining these are a painting of Princes Dock, Hull, by John Atkinson Grimshaw, a Great Northern Railway clerk turned painter who’s best known for moonlit works such as this, and Sunrise in September by George Claussen, professor of painting at the Royal Academy. Perhaps best loved in the gallery, however, is French artist Rosa Bonheur’s huge canvas, The Lion at Home.
Sunderland Museum, Library and Winter Garden, Burdon Rd,, Sunderland SR1 1PP, SR1 1PP - Visit now
Alongside galleries dedicated to exploring the history of Sunderland from the Stone Age onwards, Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens has a gallery dedicated to Victorian art. One of the space’s key attributes has to do with the way the paintings are displayed: the works are ‘salon’ hung, as they would have been in the Victorian era, each painting presented close to its neighbour, the wall crowded with frames. This allows visitors to experience the works much as the very first people who saw them would have done, and to gain a real appreciation for the themes and styles of the period in one sitting. Visitors are rewarded with highlights from Sunderland Museum’s collection, including the hair-raising vista depicted in Clarkson Stanfield’s The Castle of Ischia, acquired in 1981. The painting came with a note: ‘On Monday, December 24th, 1838, it blew a heavy gale from the south-west; several small craft from Procida and Baiae […] entirely wrecked, and it was with difficulty the crew were saved.’
Gallery Oldham, Oldham Cultural Quarter, Greaves Street, Oldham, Greater Manchester, OL1 1AL - Visit now
Amongst Gallery Oldham’s Fine Art collection of over 550 paintings, which ranges from Pre-Raphaelite and late Victorian artists to post-war painting, one of the most extraordinary works is Circe offering the Cup to Ulysses by John William Waterhouse. This utterly captivating painting was bought direct from the artist in 1902 by Oldham industrialist Charles Lees, and stayed in the family’s collection for fifty years, before being donated to the borough in 1952. Born in Rome and the son of a painter, Waterhouse’s style was initially centred on classical themes, but shifted over time as the artist developed a growing interest in the Pre-Raphaelites. Circe is among a number of paintings depicting ‘femmes fatales’ amongst Waterhouse’s oeuvre, and is one of the best travelled works in Gallery Oldham’s collection, having been exhibited in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Japan, Canada and Germany over the past 15 years. It’s testimony to the work’s popularity that the curatorial team regularly turns down loan requests in order to ensure that Oldham locals and visitors to the gallery have ample opportunities to admire the masterpiece.
York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square, York, Yorkshire, YO1 7EH - Visit now
York is the birthplace of English painter Albert Moore, an artist whose career began under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, and later turned to more classical influences. Among York Art Gallery’s 1,000-strong collection of paintings, which includes a group of Victorian narrative pieces and works exploring rural and family life, are several pieces by Moore. Goldfinch, one of the first works Moore exhibited at the Royal Academy, is among them, and demonstrates the artist’s early leanings. Moore’s father was also a painter, and two of his 14 siblings became notable painters in their own right, but Albert was held up as having a particular talent. His paintings are now part of a collection that showcases over 200 years of British art, with many of the Victorian works having come to the gallery at the bequest of John Burton, a horse dealer, mine owner and resident of York.