“We are saying that Liverpool was a hugely significant place for the pre-Raphaelites,” said the curator Christopher Newall. “There was a tradition of art collecting that led to great things … but more than that there was a freedom of spirit, an intellectualism, a non-conformism and self-confidence that allowed this style of art to prosper.”
Behind the Liverpool Academy was a veritable slew of wealthy industrialists who embraced the rebellious PRB and started collecting their work with ingenuous abandon. The soap magnate, Lord Lever. The Birkenhead banker, George Rae. The tobacco merchant, John Miller. The ship owner, Frederick Richards Leyland. The brewer, Andrew Barclay Walker, (whose cash founded the Gallery itself). The walls of their mansions were stuffed with PRB work. Self-made men, they came to the world of art with no elitist preconceptions and they warmed to the PRB`s non-conformism. Even today the PRB enjoys a mixed reputation amongst art cognoscenti, but it has mostly been popular with the `man in the street`. In similar vein, these no-nonsense northern capitalists simply liked what they saw - realistic figurative images with vivid colour and a compelling narrative - and promptly bought what they liked.
I can`t answer for the business ethics of The Walker`s Victorian Liverpool magnate-art-benefactors, and no doubt there was a touch of self-interest and status-seeking in their patronage, however there is no doubt about the wonderful legacy that they have left us. Is this `enlightened capitalism`? Maybe, maybe not. But for those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy this show, it is most assuredly `acceptable`!