Selected Works & Context

Find out further information on selected works.

From works by the Pre-Raphaelites and L.S. Lowry, to exquisite Victorian glassware and lustrous artist-designed ‘Pilkington Pots’, this display celebrates works in public collections across the North West of England and poses the question – what role should art play in social change?

Taking its title from the motto used by the architect Charles Barry of Manchester Art Gallery, the display looks at 19th Century industrialisation and the making and patronage of art. Centering on the relationship between art and social reform between 1850 and 1940, it focuses on Thomas Horsfall’s Manchester Art Museum, Leeds Art Club and Mass Observation.

Highlights include works on paper by Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown and watercolours by John Ruskin and William Holman Hunt, which were used to encourage a knowledge and love of art and beauty amongst workers. In contrast, Frank Brangwyn and Edward Wadsworth present gritty depictions of working life whilst photographs by Humphrey Spender and a film by Humphrey Jennings set the social and cultural context. The display also includes intricate carvings of a lobster, banana and fig, highly detailed and delicately crafted curiosities which educated and intrigued visitors at the time.

Pilkington’s Lancastrians Pottery & Tiles
Established in 1891, Pilkington’s Lancastrians Pottery & Tiles has a long and chequered history. The pottery studios were started in 1903 and produced some of the finest functional and decorative wares in the country. The company commissioned designs from artists such as Walter Crane and painters including Richard Joyce, William S. Mycock and Gladys Rodgers.

Pilkington’s is most famous for producing lusterware, working with lapis lazuli, and creating new colours such as uranium orange and rouge flambé. The company donated specimens to museums including Bury Art Gallery and Museum and the Peter Scott Gallery. The manufacture of pots ceased in 1975, while tiles continue to be produced today.

Patti Mayor   
“Half-timers are dirty and labour soiled, in ragged clothes, with heavy eyes and worn faces.  In the clothing districts, their faces, necks, and hands are deeply stained with the blue of the dye used for the cloth… I fancied, perhaps wrongly that there was little notice taken of them in the business of the school… The master professed himself unable to include them in various classes, without materially injuring the progress of the other children.”
From the Minutes of the Committee of the Council on Education, 1844; quoted in Pandaemonium (1985) by Humphrey Jennings.

Marion Rhodes
“If we cross Blackstone Edge or penetrate it with the railroad, we enter upon that classic soil on which English manufacture has achieved its masterwork and from which all labour movements emanate, namely, South Lancashire with its central city Manchester. Again we have beautiful hill country, sloping gently from the watershed westwards towards the Irish Sea, with the charming green valleys of the Ribble, the Irwell, the Mersey, and their tributaries, a country which, a hundred years ago was chiefly swamp land, thinly populated, is now sown with towns and villages, and is the most densely populated strip of country in England.”
Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845).

Franck Brangwyn   
“It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.”
Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854.

John Ruskin
“There was a rocky valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, divine as the Vale of Tempe; you might have seen the Gods there morning and evening. You cared neither for the Gods nor grass, but for cash. You Enterprised a Railroad through the valley – you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half-an-hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere.”
John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, letter the 5th, 1971