Manchester Art Gallery

Silent Witness

Out of the Crate, Manchester Art Gallery’s latest sculpture exhibition, currently on display in Gallery 12, has brought into the light several pieces from our collection about which we know very little. These are the so-called Cold Cases. One piece by Marie Petrie piqued my curiosity enough to delve further.

Continue reading Silent Witness on our MAGnet blog.


Louise Giovanelli – Saints and Celebrity

‘Creating art is one way of striving for immortality, an act of hope and defiance. But will the artist be remembered, will any of us? Who knows?’

On our MAGnet blog, Visitor Services staff member and writer Patrick Kellerher offers insight into Louise Giovanelli’s queitly mysterious paintings.

Read Patrick’s article here.




Berni Searle: new acquisitions

Two powerful photographs by South African artist Berni Searle have been donated to Manchester Art Gallery.

Manchester Art Gallery has been selected as the winner of the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society award which supports the acquisition of significant works by a living female artist into museum collections. We are receiving the photographs by Berni Searle through this scheme after making a strong case for addressing the representation of female artists within their existing collections.

Berni Searle

Searle works with lens-based media to stage narratives connected to history, memory and place. Using her own body, she addresses race, the commodification of the female body and its power in myth making. Her work connects to universal emotions of vulnerability, loss and beauty.

I am delighted and honoured to enter the permanent collection of Manchester Art Gallery, and I am grateful to the Contemporary Art Society and Valeria Napoleone for their continued patronage of women in the arts.

Untitled (Red), 1998 is a play on the racial classification of ‘coloured’ used under apartheid, the then government’s term for people of mixed ethnicities. Searle covered herself in spices in reference to the Dutch East India Company’s trade. This brought white colonisers into contact with the local inhabitants and slaves of the Cape of Good Hope, and as a consequence having children of multiple cultural heritage. She said ‘I chose to cover myself with various colours – red, yellow, white, brown, in an attempt to resist any definition of identity which is static, or can be placed into neat categories. Placing myself or my body in the work, exposes other aspects of my identity, for example, gender.’ Here Searle’s mouth is covered, and unable to speak, she confronts us directly with her eyes.

In wake of, 2014 was created after the 2012 Marikana massacre in which striking mineworkers were shot at close range by the South African police. In this closely cropped image, Searle’s body is covered with coal dust and positioned as if laid out in death. Her hands hold gold Kruger Rand coins, a symbol of the wealth created by the mine owners in direct contrast to the migrant workers who suffer under systems of racial, gender, class and economic segregation. The body here is presented as a unit of labour and memorialises women affected by the mining industry.

Manchester Art Gallery’s collection has relatively few works by women artists but many depicting women, especially nude women, created by male artists for male patrons. In using her body in her work, Searle takes back control of female representation. Although her work comes out of the context of South African history and politics, it raises universal questions which transcend place and speak to works in the collection, the gallery’s history and the people of Manchester.

Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VN XX CAS)

Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VN XX CAS) is a joint initiative of philanthropist Valeria Napoleone and the Contemporary Art Society. The scheme purchases and donates a significant work by a living female artist each year to a UK museum that that has made a strong case for addressing the representation of female artists within their existing collections. Past acquisitions have included work by Martine Syms for Leeds Art Gallery and Aliza Nisenbaum for Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.



Berni Searle Untitled (Red). From the Colour Me series, 1998
Berni Searle In wake of 2014
©Berni Searle, courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

I say Kirkcudbright, you say Kirkoobree

Fine Art Curator Hannah Williamson explores the connection between Manchester and the Scottish coastal town of Kircudbright  through the painter Charles Oppenheimer.

I’d recommend to anyone interested in Manchester’s art history a visit to the Scottish coastal town of Kirkcudbright this summer (for the uninitiated: go up as far as Gretna Green and then left for 50 miles, pronounced ‘Kirkoobree’). The new Kirkcudbright Galleries opened last year, and their current summer show focuses on an artist from Manchester, Charles Oppenheimer (1875-1951).

From designer to painter

Oppenheimer grew up in Manchester in the Greenheys area, and trained at the School of Art, the idea being that his design skills would benefit the family mosaic business. Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd was based in Old Trafford, and employed about 25 people to produce beautiful mosaics (there’s a sample on display in the Kirkcudbright exhibition), a frequent client being the Catholic Church. Charles’s father, a German Jewish immigrant, founded the business following estrangement from his merchant banking family.

Charles himself waited until after the death of Ludwig before spreading his wings, choosing to paint for his living, and removing himself from city life. Kirkcudbright was his artistic haven. However, his links with Manchester remained strong. Oppenheimer was a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, and exhibited there almost without a break from 1910 to 1952, serving as President of MAFA from 1949-50. He and his wife Connie came to Manchester every year for the MAFA Conversazione, as they so glamorously titled their exhibition previews.

Manchester Art Gallery loans

Manchester Art Gallery have lent two paintings from our collection to the Kirkcudbright show, but I suspect that there are more links between Kirkcudbright and Manchester than Oppenheimer alone. Kirkcudbright was a thriving artists’ colony when Oppenheimer lived there, with Glasgow Girls and Boys Jessie M King, Ernest A Taylor, and Edward A Hornel all based in the town. Oppenheimer’s spare room must have often hosted fellow Manchester artists who came to paint the fine scenery. We have some evidence of this in the collection in the form of Maxwell Reekie’s view of Kirkcudbright Harbour.

While at the Kirkcudbright Conversazione last weekend, a fellow guest told me that Mr Brown, of Manchester’s Affleck and Brown’s department store, spent part of his fortune on elaborate castle-building nearby too. I wonder if there are more connections between Manchester’s art scene and the artist’s colony of Kirkcudbright? If you know of any, please do get in touch.

As the Manchester International Festival’s School of Integration, initiated by Tania Bruguera, takes place here at Manchester Art Gallery, it is also a good time to remember immigrant Ludwig Oppenheimer’s contribution to design and manufacture in this city.

English Corner takes a break

English Corner has been running since 2009 and is an example of how we foster a sense of welcome to people learning English in the city, whether they have been living here for a long time, are newly arrived or just here for a few days. All levels of English ability are welcome and it’s a great way for people to feel welcome and safe in the gallery.

English Corner has been delivered by ESOL tutor and artist, Kate Davies since 2014. Sadly, Kate died in May from cancer. She was a really engaging tutor, who was meticulous in her planning and consideration of how she used the artwork and taught English. She built up a great rapport with regular learners. We are sorry to share such sad news. She will be very missed.

We are taking a short break from English Corner and will be starting again on the second Tuesday of each month from October.

The dates of the next round of classes are:
8 Oct, 12 Nov, 10 Dec at the different time of 10-11.30.

Please keep an eye here on our website and social media for updates.

Platt Hall redevelopment: towards a community generated museum


This project is part of a new Vision for Manchester Art Gallery which promotes art as a tool for social change and campaigns for the right for all Manchester citizens to live creative and healthy lives.

Generations of Mancunians have been able to visit the gallery since its inception to see clothing ranging from 17th century dress, to modern day sports and workwear.

In order to safeguard this collection for future generations Platt Hall is now closed as work gets under way to carry out vital repairs on its roof, as well as improve its accessibility and ensure the gallery reflects the diverse and creative community it resides in.

The vision for Platt Hall is to turn the gallery into a place which inspires creative activity, not just serve as a visitor attraction. The renovation work when completed will present this historic house in a fresh new light, as new clean space filled with potential, ready to be turned into a transformative space, to be shaped and defined by the people who use it.

Platt Hall sits at the cross roads of the neighbourhoods of Rusholme, Fallowfield and Moss Side in South Manchester. We will work with these diverse communities to build a new kind of institution that will have a transformational impact on this locality, but also have significance for the wider city. This has the potential to show a clear way to expand the city’s cultural offer, in the city’s neighbourhoods as well as its centre, to be more inclusive and to addresses local needs and priorities and the ambition the City Council has for its residents.

Alistair Hudson, Director of Manchester Art Gallery

The Gallery of Costume was founded in 1947 when Manchester acquired the large private collection of costume which Drs Willet and Phillis Cunnington had amassed during the 1930s, and which concentrated on ordinary dress.

Since then it has significantly expanded with numerous acquisitions including a current Heritage Lottery Fund grant to collect couture fashion. Elements of the costume collection will be exhibited in a new specific gallery at Manchester Art Gallery from 2021.

We’ll be documenting both the repairs to and plans for the redevelopment of Platt Hall and share these here and on our social media channels.





From Compton Verney to Tokyo, loans from the gallery this spring

Requests to loan works from Manchester Art Gallery’s collection come from across the world. Our Loans Manager Siân Stephenson assesses and manages these requests and here she details a selection of our current loans.

People’s History Museum

An early 19thC dress from the costume collection worn by Mrs Mabbott of Manchester during the Peterloo Massacre of 1918 is on display as part of the Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest exhibition, 23 March 2019 – 23 February 2020 at People’s History Museum, Manchester.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa

Two suits from the costume collection by Cristobal Balenciaga are on loan to the Cristóbal Balenciaga. Fashion and Heritage exhibition, 1 March 2019 – 12 January 2020 at Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa, Getaria, Spain.

Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum

Twelve works including an engraving of William Holman Hunt’s The Triumph of the Innocents, 9 engraved woodblocks and two watercolours by John Ruskin are on loan to Parabola of Pre-Raphaelitism exhibition, 14 March – 9 June 2019 at Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo, Japan. Following the display in Tokyo, the exhibition will then travel on to Kurume City Art Museum, Fukuoka, 18 June – 8 September 2019 and Abeno Harukas Art Museum, Osaka, 5 October – 15 December 2019.

Compton Verney

Thomas Gainsborough, A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood is on loan to Compton Verney in Warwickshire as part of the Painting Childhood: From Holbein to Freud exhibition, 16 March – 16 June 2019.

York Art Gallery

Four drawings on woodblocks by John Ruskin, Hard Times by Hubert von Herkomer, India House, Manchester by Adolphe Valette, and The Boats were Machine-Gunned by Richard Ernst Eurich are on loan to York Art Gallery for the Ruskin, Turner and the Storm Cloud: Watercolours and Drawings exhibition, 29 March – 23 June 2019.  The woodblocks will also tour to the second exhibition venue, Abbot Hall Art Gallery in
Kendal, 12 July – 5 October 2019.

Wolverhampton Art Gallery

The Lost Sheep by William J. Webb, Heath Street, Hampstead (Study for Work) by Ford Madox Brown, Two Women in a Wood and Rue de Voisins by Camille Pissarro are on loan to the Radical Landscapes: Pre-Raphaelites and their French Contemporaries exhibition, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 16 March – 9 June 2019

Watts Gallery

Diana and Endymion by Sir Edward John Poynter and Hamlet and the Ghost by Frederic James Shields are on display at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village in Guildford as part of the Moonscapes exhibition, 2 April – 23 June 2019

Leonardo in Liverpool

As a country wide commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, the Royal Collection have loaned their Leonardo drawings to different locations, in Leeds; Belfast; Birmingham; Bristol; Cardiff; Derby; Glasgow; Liverpool; Sheffield; Southampton; Sunderland and our very own Manchester! The strategic programming by the Royal Collection means that everyone in England is no more than an hour’s drive away from one of the exhibition venues, each of which contains 12 drawings.

Since the Leonardo drawings arrived back in February, I’ve had countless conversations with the visitors who flocked to MAG, about their experiences of the drawings in the other locations. So after the thirtieth mention of Liverpool’s Leonardo’s, I decided it’s about time I scope it out for myself. I have been wondering how each venue might differ in presentation and how much freedom the Royal Collection gave to the curation. Since MAG’s theme is ‘the body’, what themes have other locations explored and how does each experience differ?

So I took a trip to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool….

Read the rest of Iona’s post on the MAGnet blog.

Writers Takeover ii

Mapping the narrative in artworks

Carole Page – English teacher, teacher educator, gallery educator, writer

Over a series of three, repeated workshops, I have been trialling the use of story maps as a creative approach to developing writing drawn from a single artwork. The workshop activities begin with close looking, using elements of line, tone, light and shade to explore the painting and what they see, in close detail. These activities are designed to ‘slow the gaze’. Students are often surprised at what they do find in the painting; all the features that had been missed in a cursory glance. Discussions about tone and light and shade, lead on to thoughts about mood, atmosphere and genre.

The interrogation of the painting using ‘impossible’ questions always generates some interesting, potential storylines. I define ‘impossible’ questions as those which you cannot possibly know the answer to unless you leap into the picture and make something up. Students don’t answer their own questions, which I think helps them to be a bit more cavalier about issues of reality. They begin to leave behind what they can actually see and start to think about the unseen and the hidden. All the groups in the workshops have generated some startlingly original and unexpected questions but my favourite was: Where is the girl? In our close examination of the painting the students had identified both figures in the painting as male so the question provoked puzzled looks and shrugs.  When pushed to answer the question though, there was a palpable buzz as someone said, ‘She could be on the boat or on the train going over the bridge.’ The feeling of immersion in the world of the painting is akin to dramatic, spontaneous improvisation where you have to go with the flow and the story goes with you.

In a similar way, the character profile questions begin to open up further possibilities of action, motivation, setting and genre. This was most noticeable when we discussed how old their character might be. The question, ‘What would it mean for your story if your character was 420 years old instead of 42, prompted puzzled looks and then realisation that their character could be a ghost, a vampire, a time-traveller or a super-hero. This then led to a re-consideration of genre and it was noticeable that a number of students chose to locate their story in the fantasy genre, something not immediately suggested by our interrogation of the painting itself.

These activities generate a lot of ideas and possibilities, so why do I feel that a story map might offer a crucial element in this planning process?

Cressida Cowell (How to Train your Dragon) notes that:

A map is … a story starter, an idea generator. Drawing a map is a magnificent way of communicating with your unconscious … When I draw the map of my imaginary world, it will tell me the direction I want to be going in, even when I don’t yet know myself

Cowell, C. The Writer’s Map, 2018:85

What lies beyond the frame?

This idea of the map directing the thinking on an almost unconscious level, was an interesting idea to explore. We had the initial setting for the story, located in the painting; a gloomy urban scene of waterways, barges and a rusted iron bridge. These elements would certainly feature but there were more questions to be asked, which a map might answer. What was beyond the frame? Where did the bridge lead from and where was it going? One of the workshop participants suggested it had been blown up and so was only half a bridge. What were the implications of this idea? Another participant suggested that the bridge was the passageway to another dimension; perhaps the view from the bridge on the other side was very different to what we could see in the painting. These ideas suggested that the opportunity to draw a map beyond the frame of the painting, might open up new directions of travel for the characters and plot.

From listening to the students and looking at the maps they drew, I do think there was evidence, at times, of the story and the map working in synergy.  Some students drew quite elaborate maps and then proceeded to label them in detail so that the action of the story proceeded hand in hand with the drawing. One workshop participant said that as he drew the map, his ideas for the story changed considerably with a shift from an industrial landscape into a university town (complete with a university of the Dark Arts).

It had appeared that naming the different locations had proved time-consuming and a stumbling block for some in the first workshop. However, I wanted the students to provide place names which might be suggestive of the mood, atmosphere, history or function of the location, as I thought this might serve as a visual backstory which would ground the narrative in a sense of ‘reality’. David Mitchell notes that his maps provide research ideas for his writing even when the stories change course and the original maps are not used.

The knowledge gained is still present in passing references, in what we sense the characters know, in the absence of avoidances and in an authority of tone

Mitchell, D. The Writer’s Map 2018:123

The map as an organisational schema of the story

Consequently, in the following workshops, we spent more time at the start of the session identifying features in the original painting and recording words which conveyed a sense of mood, tone and atmosphere. Asking the pupils in pairs to use this vocabulary to name the features in the painting: bridge, dock, boat, river, meant that they already had some established locations to transfer to their map later in the session. This activity emerged quite fluidly from looking closely at the painting and so did not end up feeling like a vocabulary ‘add-on’ but a useful extension.

As the students identified and named their locations, new possibilities opened up that suggested their characters might travel far from this grimy canal, both mentally and physically. An active volcano appeared on one map, a bazaar on another; a structure like a giant King chess piece with the label: No game, no life, sounded ominous; alien crop circles made an appearance and, in a rather sinister vein, an underground ‘Kiddie Secret Science Lab’ promised danger and jeopardy, though for whom, it was not yet clear.

Importantly, these maps provided talking points, leading into more detailed discussion of plot, sometimes opening up ideas, other times, pinning them down. This last point, the need to begin to fix ideas into a coherent narrative from all the possibilities emerging, led into the last map activity.

The students were asked to identify with a cross, where on the map their story began. This would provide the setting for their opening paragraph. A dotted line would then show the journey their character made across the map. Some pupils chose to label significant points with actions, providing, in effect a skeleton plan of the story: Stole some valuables; Failed boat jump; Police chase; Running from cars; Police lost him; Runs the other way; Climbs. Others identified the sequence of events by numbering their locations. What the map was providing was a largely visual, organisational schema of their story that would offer a narrative structure.

Reflecting on using a map as an organising structure, David Mitchell writes:

In one chapter of my novel, Black Swan Green, the thirteen year old protagonist, Jason, is required to race across a row of back gardens in order to become a member of a shadowy village gang.  To avoid repetition, the gardens needed to be different in character – some manicured, others neglected, one full of gnomes … On nearby pages the numbered houses have their own sections listing the names, ages, social class and personalities of their residents, but it’s the illustrative map that serves as the chapter’s organizing principle.

Mitchell, D. The Writer’s Map 2018:123

It seemed to me that this was one of the key functions of the story maps the pupils had drawn in that it provided an organizing principle for their narratives.

In my final post on this topic, I will draw on the students’ evaluations and my own observations to consider the success of using story maps in the workshop and how the activity might be further developed and evaluated.

Writer’s Takeover

Art and Writing: Imagining stories through artworks

Carole Page – English teacher, teacher educator, gallery educator, writer

Some weeks ago, The Guardian printed extracts from The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones (Thames and Hudson). In these extracts, Robert MacFarlane wrote about the map of Treasure Island, that Robert Louis Stevenson drew to entertain his twelve-year-old stepson but which went on to inspire Stevenson to write his first novel. Frances Hardinge explored the map of Moomin Valley by Tove Jansson, that she had pored over and loved as a child and Miraphora Mina described being part of the team that produced the complex and beautiful Marauders’ Map for the Harry Potter films. These were all maps that I knew and had loved, either as a child or as a mother reading with her children. This was clearly a book I had to have, and I promptly ordered a copy. It sits on the table beside me now and what strikes me, apart from the beauty and intricacy of the maps within it, is the power they have to enthrall and engage. Story maps allow you to locate yourself within the landscape and make the journeys, either fraught with danger or wrought with wonder, which the characters have embarked upon. Nowhere, it seems to me, do visual imagery and words combine more powerfully with the imagination, than in a story map. Maps can sometimes seem to be deceptively simple but the connections we make offer up so much more. It is easy to get lost in a good map – figuratively speaking!

The map as a trailer

Personally, I have always loved a book which begins with a map. As you turn the first few pages and the map is revealed, it is like the literary equivalent of a teaser trailer for a much anticipated film. Where does the action take place? What journeys might the characters embark upon – both physical and mental? From here on in, the map becomes a reference point to be returned to as the novel progresses. In this way it is also a structural device at the heart of the reading process.

It is this latter aspect in which I have become increasingly interested. I have frequently drawn on maps in my teaching, often to provide a clear, visual overview of a complex narrative structure. What I have begun to consider in my own writing and teaching is the way in which a map might become a creative and structural device at the heart of the writing process. What I want to explore is the symbiotic nature of a story map in shaping, and being shaped by, the emerging narrative.

I have recently been reading my father’s ancient copy of Treasure Island, given to him as a gift in 1933 when he was ten years old. The map is there at the start, with its memorable locations: Spyglass Hill, Skeleton Island.  However, what particularly interested me was Robert Louis Stevenson’s own exploration of the role of the map in the process of writing, discussed in the introduction. Stevenson drew his map of Treasure Island first and the book emerged from this. As he notes:

… as I pored upon my map of Treasure Island, the future characters of the book began to appear there visibly among imaginary woods; and their brown faces and bright weapons peeped out upon me from unexpected quarters, as they passed to and fro, fighting and hunting treasure, on these few square inches of a flat projection.

For Stevenson, then, the ideas of the story emerged from the visual creation of an imaginary place, envisioned as a map.

Encouraging a new generation of writers in the city

The opportunity to explore these ideas further was presented by Manchester Art Gallery’s exciting and innovative initiative for Manchester schools – Writers’ Takeover – a series of workshops in partnership with Manchester Library, Manchester Literature Festival and the Writing Squad. The workshops were for KS2 and KS3 students, and were designed to enthuse and encourage a new generation of writers in the city. The initiative ran from Tuesday 16th to Friday 19th October 2018 and I was lucky enough to be part of this. I delivered a creative writing workshop for KS3 students, which was developed initially through a project funded by MaxLiteracy.  This workshop enables students to look closely at an artwork and begin to interrogate the images they see through a series of activities designed to open up a creative, written response to the painting.

Impossible questions

The painting used in the workshop is Under Windsor Bridge by Adolphe Valette. It is a murky, atmospheric, urban landscape of waterways and bridges in which a lone mysterious figure draws the eye.  Students’ initial impression of the painting tends to be that it is dull and not particularly interesting. The almost monochromatic tones make it difficult to distinguish significant features at a glance. The workshop activities draw on elements of tone, line and colour to slow down the ‘looking process’ and explore mood, genre, and personal connections with the painting. The opportunity to interrogate what they see using ‘impossible questions’ allows narrative plot lines to emerge and character to develop. What had been regarded as ‘a bit boring’ soon becomes a tense drama of potential spies, villains, dark deeds, danger, flight and melancholy as the questions spark imaginative responses and they begin to weave together the possible storylines.

The students are generally not short of ideas about what might be happening in this picture but I was keen to find ways to help them shape these ideas into a narrative structure. This is where I feel that story maps may have a part to play. In the series of workshops I delivered, I asked students to create a map of the landscape of their story as suggested by the painting. They named the significant locations and began to chart their character’s journey through this setting. In this way, I was hoping that story maps would enhance the students’ creative responses to planning and structuring their stories.

Robert Louis Stevenson was in no doubt as to the value of creating a story map prior to writing. He regarded this as an important resource for the writer: to generate ideas and plot development, to provide continuity and a sense of grounding the story in ‘reality’ and, crucially, as a lightning rod of creativity which will spark new connections and ideas each time it is consulted:

It is my contention … that he who is faithful to his map, and consults it, and draws from it his inspiration, daily and hourly, gains positive support … The tale has a root there; it grows in that soil; it has a spine of its own behind the words. Better if the country be real, and he has walked every foot of it and knows every milestone.  But even with imaginary places he will do well in the beginning to provide a map. As he studies it, relations will appear that he had not thought upon. He will discover obvious though unsuspected short cuts and footpaths for his messengers; and even when a map is not all the plot, as it was in Treasure Island, it will be found to be a mine of suggestion.

Over the next two posts I will reflect on how far the story maps the students created, offered up ‘a mine of suggestion’ in terms of plot development and narrative structure. I will also consider the synergy that may be created between the map and the writing process and how the idea of ‘mapping the narrative’ might be further developed.