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Not without reason is it nicknamed the 'National Gallery of the north'.
While the collection originated in 1819 – with a gift of 37 paintings to the Liverpool Royal Institution by local historian, lawyer and philanthropist William Roscoe – the gallery itself did not come to fruition for a further 60 years. In 1873 Andrew Barclay Walker, a Liverpool brewer and alderman offered the city £20,000 for a gallery that would commemorate his term as mayor. He was not a noted patron or collector of art, but he did give to many good causes – partly to improve the public image of brewing and alcohol at a time when it was unpopular. The following year, Prince Alfred the Duke of Edinburgh, laid the foundation stone of the gallery, while the council set aside £1,200 for the purchase of works of art. It opened in 1877, receiving 324,117 visitors in its first four months.
Since then the collection has grown to incorporate an impressive number of gifts, donations and acquisitions, from Renaissance masterpieces to Tudor portraits, Victorian decorative arts to contemporary works. The Walker Art Gallery is also home to the biennial John Moores painting prize, the UK's biggest painting competition.
When it was founded, the Walker was intended to house the art of the day, and its Victorian collection is justly celebrated; landscapes by Turner are displayed alongside works by Millais, Rossetti and Leighton. Today an interactive gallery traces the evolution from Victorian to contemporary British art.
Further galleries cover the medieval and Renaissance periods, the 17th and 18th centuries and the art of the two World Wars. Among the many prestigious artists featured are Lucas Cranach the Elder, George Stubbs, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, Joseph Wright of Derby, William Hogarth, David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Bridget Riley.