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Walker Art Gallery to host 17th century masterpiece 

1 month ago

Walker Art Gallery to host 17th century masterpiece 
Diego Velázquez, 1599-1660, The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus'), 1647-51. Presented by the Art Fund, 1906 © The National Gallery, London

The Rokeby Venus is to be displayed alongside unexpected works by women and non-binary artists.

One of the most recognisable paintings in the UK is coming to Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery as part of a nationwide celebration of the 200th birthday of the National Gallery in London. It will be presented in a groundbreaking new display challenging male desire in art.

The Toilet of Venus (1647-51) by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) – more commonly known as The Rokeby Venus – has long been a topic of public conversation and interest. This new display will challenge traditional views on the painting by setting it alongside a range of unexpected artworks by women and non-binary artists.

The painting is Velázquez’s only surviving female nude. Over the centuries, it has become symbolic of the male gaze, and has often been held up as an example of the objectification of women in art. National Treasures: Velázquez in Liverpool will consider new ways of seeing, focusing on the perspectives of women and Queer people through a range of works that have rarely been displayed before.

The work comes to the Walker Art Gallery as part of National Treasures, a programme celebrating the National Gallery’s bicentenary. The painting is one of 12 of the most beloved works from the collection in London which will travel to museums and galleries across the UK, each curating and creating around their painting. All 12 displays will open on 10 May 2024, the 200th birthday of the National Gallery. National Treasures is supported by Garfield Weston Foundation and other donors, and further digital content about the displays will be available on Bloomberg Connects.

Melissa Gustin and Kate O’Donoghue, Curator of British Art and Curator of International Fine Art at National Museums Liverpool, said: 

The Rokeby Venus first came to Liverpool in 1906 before being unveiled at the National Gallery in London, so it’s incredibly exciting to have her back in the city. We are delighted to work in partnership with the National Gallery during their anniversary year and are grateful to them for this fantastic loan.

“Challenging the conversation around this iconic painting gives us a chance to spotlight the work of women and non-binary artists in our collection. Velázquez acknowledges the woman’s gaze in this painting with Venus herself looking in the mirror.”

Walker Art Gallery. Credit: National Museums Liverpool
Walker Art Gallery. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

“It’s marvellous to see a consistent favourite painting at the National Gallery presented amongst a completely different collection to our own. Seeing the different ways our paintings can be looked at all over the UK is such an exciting way to celebrate turning 200. The Rokeby Venus has always been a conversation-starting work and we know she is in excellent hands in Liverpool.”

Alongside Velázquez’s masterpiece, the display will include The Spanish Gesture (1934) by Scottish artist Ethel Walker. Long held in the Walker Art Gallery’s collections, the painting is an example of Ethel Walker’s alluring paintings of women. She is celebrated as one of the earliest lesbian artists to openly express their sexuality in their paintings. 

Other works include Puck (1855-1859) by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer. Hosmer was an American sculptor working in Rome who actively rejected the norms and social conventions expected of women, and lived in romantic relationships with other women.

A selection of works that have recently been acquired by the Walker Art Gallery will also be displayed, including a selection of photographs by South African artist Zanele Muholi named Miss Lesbian VII (Amsterdam) and Miss Lesbian I (Amsterdam) (2009). Rene Matić’s Chiddy Doing Rene’s Hair (2019), which considers race, beauty, and gender as a performance, will also be displayed at the Walker for the first time.

National Treasures: Velázquez in Liverpool opens at the Walker Art Gallery on 10 May and runs until 26 August 2024. Entry is free, with donations welcome.

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