Worcestershire’s greatest artist

Between 1862 and 1889 Benjamin Williams Leader lived next to Whittington Church on the outskirts of Worcester. He painted and drew Whittington church multiple times.

However, the church we see in these works did not appear as it would have during his life but is a recreation of the fifteenth century building that was in place there until 1784. Leader chose to replace the 1844 building with something more historic and picturesque.

Here in this painting from Worcester City’s museum collection called Worcestershire Morning Clearing After Rain, Leader’s great skill for capturing life within the Worcestershire landscape is shown in the muddy, waterlogged roads of this small hamlet, with the cheerily smoking chimney stacks of the houses in the background that promise warmth to return to.


Paolozzi – The precursor to Pop Art

Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi was born in Scotland in 1924 to Italian immigrant parents who ran a small ice-cream parlour in Leith. Paolozzi studied art at Edinburgh College of Art and London’s Slade School. Inspired by the sweet packets, cigarette cards and matchboxes sold in his father’s shop, as early as the 1940s Paolozzi used imagery of modern machinery and pinup girls in his artwork, pre-empting the pop art movement which emerged in America in the 1950s.

This work ‘Philadelphia Print’ from the Worcester City Collection is one of 100 made for the 1971 exhibition Silkscreen: History of the Medium at the Museum of Modern Art in Philadelphia. It is an example of how complex, detailed and colourful silkscreen printing can be in the hands of a master.

From Bromsgrove to church windows across the world

The beautiful work of Worcestershire stained glass artist Archibald John Davies can be found in at least 250 windows in over 100 churches and cathedrals across the globe.

Davies grew up in Birmingham and trained at the Birmingham School of Art, then continuing to work in its famous Arts & Crafts style. Initially he ran his own studio in Moseley until Walter Gilbert, the charismatic founder of the Bromsgrove Guild, persuaded him to join.

Davies set up his stained glass studio in the Bromsgrove Guild premises in 1906, and many great glass craftsmen learned and developed their trade under his guidance. Davies himself particularly enjoyed working with rare forms of continental glass that are now no longer made. He continued leading the studio until his death in 1953.

These evocative photographs of a window design and a window being installed are from the Bromsgrove Guild archive in the Worcestershire County Museum collection.

Cupids by Bernardo Arniconi, 19th Century

Very little is known about Bernardo Arniconi, the Italian painter of this oil painting Cupids which came to Worcester City Art Gallery in 1850 as part of the Reverend G D Bowles collection, and was one of the first artworks to come into the Worcester city collection.

In Roman mythology, Cupid is the son of Venus and Mars – the gods of love and war. He is usually depicted with a bow and arrow. As there are two of these figures and they don’t have his characteristic arrow its likely they are not supposed to be Cupid himself but amorino: cherubs or putti representing non-religious passion – figures of love and compassion. Putto are adorably chubby male babies with wings, what we usually think of as cherubs. However in early Jewish and Christian literature, a cherub was actually a creature with multiple wing and four faces, one human, as well as an ox, a lion and an eagle. Putto came to be part of the imagery of Christmas following Italian renaissance artworks representing them as part of scenes of the Madonna and child.

The Beacons are lit!

This engraving is part of Worcester City’s collection, and illustrates a fire being built atop the Worcestershire Beacon.

As the highest point in the Malvern Hills, the Beacon has historically been used as part of a chain of signalling fires, used to pass messages of approaching danger across the country. The Worcestershire Beacon formed part of the chain of warning fires lit in response to the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. During World War II, the Beacon was also used as a look-out point for fires after air-raids on both Birmingham and Coventry.

Throughout the nineteenth century, beacons became a popular form of celebration, used to commemorate national events such as Coronations, Jubilees and even the end of the Crimean War in 1856. We think this engraving depicts the construction of a beacon in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863.

These celebratory beacons were impressive in scale and often complex. Some included chimneys in order to ensure a good blaze, whilst others utilised the help of local construction companies. In this example, tons of wooden barrels can be seen making their way to the summit by horse and cart, and workers are assembling bundles of gorse atop a wooden platform to form a core of kindling.

The Worcestershire Beacon continues to be used during National celebrations, having seen fires lit for the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

William Callow’s view of Worcester

When William Callow held his retrospective exhibition in London in 1907, he was described as the ‘oldest living British artist’. At ninety-five, he’d lived through and painted some of the biggest changes in the English landscape. This watercolour of Worcester painted around 1850 shows the city on the cusp of major industrial development: still a charming and verdant scene, but with the Severn trow barges busy on the river and chimney smoke rising in the distance.

Callow’s early life was a whirlwind of society glamour – aged only nineteen he was offered a job teaching the family of the French King Louis Philippe I. Supposedly he fell in love with his young pupil Princess Clementine, but she sadly did not return his feelings. In his late twenties Callow returned to England, married, and settled into his career as a watercolour artist. His paintings became larger and, like this one of Worcester, reflected a more mature outlook, both in himself and in the landscapes he pictured.

On the Heath at Old Storridge, Worcestershire by Henry Harris Lines

Henry Harris Lines was one of several artists active in the burgeoning cultural and intellectual Worcester of the mid-nineteenth century.

The eldest son of a Birmingham artist, Lines followed his father’s footsteps into landscape painting. He moved to Worcester in 1832, around the time he made this painting, because of a Midlands cholera epidemic. Although Worcester wasn’t spared the illness, its surrounding countryside would have appeared fresher than industrial Birmingham.

In his 60s, Lines formed a passion for archaeology and turned his drawing skills to accurately survey historic sites. He was a prolific watercolour painter and the excellent collection of his work held by Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum gives us many views of the Worcestershire landscape at such a significant period.

An idyllic view of nature

Paintings of labourers travelling to or from their days work in the field on a horse drawn hay wagon (also known as a haywain) were made famous by Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable. These often calm and pastoral scenes were particularly popular with wealthy art collectors in the late 18th and early 19th centuries at a time when the agricultural revolution and rapid industrialisation meant that countryside life was changing, moving away from hundreds of years of tradition. For land owners, peaceful pastoral scenes like this offered picturesque, nostalgic versions of a way of life that was disappearing.

Here, the travellers present an elegant arc across the landscape. They are framed by a gnarled, leaning tree, which is a compositional device borrowed from the 17th century French and Italian classical landscape tradition of artists such as Claude Lorrain. This creates a picturesque scene of humans and nature in harmony, idealising agricultural labour.

When the Cat’s Away…

This engraving in Worcester City’s collection is a direct copy of a fourteenth century carving found in the Priory Church, Great Malvern.

A popular theme within ecclesiastical carvings at this time was ‘turning the tables’. This scene shows a cat falling victim to the ingenuity and teamwork of three mice or rats, where once they would have been its prey. The owls at each side of the scene may be there to take heed of the fate of the cat – or are perhaps waiting to take advantage of an easy meal.
The carving may be found on one of twenty-two misericords located in the Chancel of Priory Church. When folded up, the solid oak misericord seat provided a discreet ledge upon which weary monks could perch or lean during long church services. The seats aptly derive their name from the Latin ‘misericordia’, or ‘act of mercy’, and were often carved with satirical scenes or grotesque figures.

Our cat and mouse scene illustrates that a macabre punishment could be served by reversing the natural order – medieval carvers enjoyed turning the universe upside-down. Another relief at the Malvern Priory depicts a husband carrying out housework, whilst a misericord carving in Worcester Cathedral shows a Hare riding a Greyhound.


Kate Banner

Collections Volunteer