Art Treasures in Manchester: 150 years on

Friday 10th August 2007

6 Oct 2007 27 Jan 2008

Art Treasures in Manchester is a major exhibition that marks the 150th anniversary of the largest art show ever seen in Britain, Art Treasures of the United Kingdom. The original Art Treasures show, held in 1857 in Manchester, was an incredible achievement for the city and an extraordinary artistic event. This new exhibition tells its story.

Held at Old Trafford in a temporary glass pavilion on the scale of London's Crystal Palace, the original Art Treasures show featured over 16,000 exhibits including paintings, sculptures, photographs and decorative arts borrowed mainly from a range of private collections. It was opened by Prince Albert in May 1857 and was visited by over 1.3 million people; visitors included Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Florence Nightingale and the French Emperor Louis Napoleon.

The new Art Treasures in Manchester show brings to life the experience of the Victorian exhibition for the 21st century visitor. Contemporary material such as newspaper reports, guidebooks and individual accounts will help to ‘set the scene’ and explain the social, political and economic climate of the day. Following thorough research by Manchester City Galleries, the new exhibition also brings back to Manchester some of the outstanding artworks on show in 1857.

Manchester Art Gallery will showcase around 160 outstanding works of art from the original show, including work by British artists such as Hogarth, Gainsborough, Turner and Constable, as well as the Pre-Raphaelites and Old Masters.

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child with Saint John and the Angels will be making an historic return to the city. Painted around 1497, it was nicknamed the Manchester Madonna due to the excitement it caused when shown at the original Art Treasures exhibition. The work had only recently been attributed to Michelangelo, and the 1857 exhibition was the first time it was shown as a rare early work by the master. It has been known by its alternative name ever since.

Decorative artworks also on display will include early Wedgwood ceramics, European porcelain, Venetian glass, Limoges enamels, Renaissance metalwork and European armour, all of exceptional quality.

Art Treasures in Manchester is a unique opportunity to see such a diverse range of artworks on show together. Many pieces are on loan from national collections such as The National Gallery, London, The National Gallery of Scotland, National Museums Liverpool, Tate and V&A, with other significant loans from the Royal Academy of Arts, London and The Royal Collection. In addition, several works now in Manchester’s permanent collection were included in the original 1857 selection. Some of these will be incorporated into the show, while others will feature elsewhere in the gallery’s displays - notably William Etty's great painting The Sirens and Ulysses, which is currently being restored live in the gallery in an ambitious 18 month long project.

This new exhibition follows the launch of the inaugural Manchester International Festival, which attracted visitors and media from all over the world, placing Manchester firmly on the cultural map. The show celebrates this ambitious civic vision and Manchester’s role now as it leads the way culturally and economically with a reinvigorated and regenerated City.

Manchester City Council is committed to providing cultural opportunities for all.
Councillor Mike Kane, Executive Member for Arts and Leisure, said:
Art Treasures in Manchester: 150 years on looks set to be a wonderful finale to what has been a very exciting cultural year for the city of Manchester. This free new exhibition includes iconic paintings and artworks by some of the world's most important artists. In addition it aims to inspire a real sense of pride in the achievements of our city, just as the original exhibition did in 1857.”

A wide range of events will also be running at the gallery including talks, tours, family workshops and music performances. A catalogue will be available to accompany the exhibition.

Notes to Editors
Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
Tel: 0161 235 8888 Fax: 0161 235 8899 Textphone: 0161 235 8893

Open Tuesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 10am – 5pm
Closed Monday, except Bank Holidays.
Free Admission.

There are four principal funders for the Art Treasures exhibition. These are:

  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • The Zochonis Charitable Trust
  • Manchester City Council
  • Manchester City Galleries Trust

There is also a Supporters Group who are jointly sponsoring the exhibition:

  • AstraZeneca
  • Ian Simpson Architects Ltd
  • Jack Livingstone
  • CTP Ltd
  • Property Alliance Group Ltd
  • Bruntwood