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Walker Art Gallery treasures Venus masterpiece

One of 17th Century Spanish artist Diego Velázquez’s most famous paintings has gone on show in Liverpool as part of the National Gallery’s Bicentenary celebrations.

The Toilet of Venus – better known as the Rokeby Venus – is on display as part of a wider National Treasures exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery until the August Bank Holiday.

Over the centuries the painting, the sole surviving nude by Velázquez, has become symbolic of male desire and an emblem of the objectification of women by artists and viewers.

In 1914 it was slashed by suffragette, art student and journalist Mary Richardson who deliberately chose what she called ‘the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history’.

Here in Liverpool, the fully restored painting is presented amid works from women artists which are mostly drawn from the Walker’s own rich archives and which curators hope will spark conversations about the way the female form is portrayed and seen.

They include works by Scottish artist Ethel Walker, 19th Century American sculptor Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, Manchester-born portraitist Annie Louisa Swynnerton, founding member of the London Group Thérèse Lessore (who was married to Walter Sickert), South African artist Zanele Muholi and Maggi Hambling.

The latter’s 1991 work – titled A Laugh with the Rokeby Venus – is also on loan from the National Gallery.

A slideshow of images from the National Treasures exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery. Top: The 'Rokeby Venus'

The National Gallery opened its doors to the public on May 10, 1824, with its first 38 paintings coming from the private collection of banker John Julius Angerstein. Its original home was in his former town house in Pall Mall and it moved to its current Trafalgar Square site in 1838.

Its National Treasures scheme sees 12 venues nationwide being loaned some of the gallery’s most famous and well-loved masterpieces.

Above: Harriet Goodhue Hosmer's sculpture Puck

Along with the Walker Art Gallery they include Rembrandt Self Portrait at the Age of 34 (Brighton Museum and Art Gallery); Artemesia Gentileschi Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (Ikon Gallery, Birmingham); Constable’s The Hay Wain (Bristol Museum and Art Gallery); Botticelli’s Venus and Mars (Fitzwilliam Gallery, Cambridge); Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle) and Monet’s The Water Lily Pond (York Art Gallery).

There are also works on loan to the Ulster Museum in Belfast (Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus), Leicester Museum and Art Gallery (Renoir’s The Umbrellas), National Galleries Scotland in Edinburgh (Vermeer’s A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal), National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth (The Stonemason’s Yard by Canaletto), and the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford (the Wilton Diptych).

The National Treasures: Velázquez in Liverpool exhibition is at the Walker Art Gallery until August 26. Check the opening times (due to ongoing industrial action) HERE


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