Manchester Art Gallery is one of my favourite places. Central enough to pop by unannounced, small enough to whizz around the permanent collections without taking up your day and with a distinctly Mancunian take on exhibiting art that I, as a loyal soldier of the Republic of Manchester, firmly adore.
When you think of a classic Edwardian painting, you think of a young mother in a white lace full-length dress with her cherub-like children playing flamboyantly in the late afternoon sun-drenched countryside. Idyllic. But, in reality, the Edwardians were an anxious lot, worried about the rising working class, rising foreign powers – anything rising, really – it was an interesting non-time.
Windsor Bridge on the Irwell, Adolphe Valette
This is New Quay Street Bridge in Manchester city centre – incorrectly titled Windsor Bridge by Valette in 1909. It’s an iron bridge, a work of the Industrial Age, linking two northern powerhouses of Victorian Britain, Manchester and Salford. Looking into this greyish impressionist haze with its mysterious buildings flanking the river you wonder is this the dawn, as the city awakes, or the dusk, as the city dies?
“A glim of light flickered here a gleam there, and on the wind a whiff of malodorous waters, for the Irwell slid close by.”
Robert Roberts, 1974
As well as random portraits of Edwardian life, the 26 pages of the Manchester Alphabet don the walls; Roger Oldham’s children’s book and chronicle of Mancunian life in 1906.
Here are some of my favourite letters.
“I for Irwell,
and for irk,
But none of these liquids
is wholesome to drink.”
“The Tram Cars glide about the streets
As if they were alive
And men and women fight for seats
Each night at half past five.”
“A model of nobility
To all of every station,
Victoria the well-beloved
The mother of the nation.”
“The Guardian is a candid friend,
As guide to sundry persons,
It compliments the very good
And sacrifices the worse ‘uns.”