This new commission has been inspired by the Walker Art Gallery’s collection, fairy tales and historic ceramics. Claire Partington’s distinctive figures often use symbolism and folklore to comment on society, both now and in the past.
The catalyst for this piece was the oil painting, “Mr and Mrs William Atherton” by Arthur Devis (1712- 1787). Atherton was a wealthy draper and an Alderman of Preston when it was painted in 1743. Partington chose the painting for its starkness and the deadpan ambiguity of the sitters. Through the painting the couple display their wealth, in an age when modern consumerism began. The scene is carefully constructed to convey success.
For What is a wealthy merchant’s house made of? Partington expands Devis’ domestic scene, taking inspiration from objects in the Walker’s collections. Liverpool was a centre for the ceramics industry in the 18th century and she employs a palette synonymous with Liverpool pottery. In this work, the bear heads suggest a darker side to the life of the respectable couple. The bear heads reference the historic bear jugs from the 18th century, which were inspired by the cruel sport of bear-baiting which was very popular at the time. The patterns of Mrs Atherton’s dress also hint at sources of merchant wealth in this era, when Liverpool and other Lancashire ports were hubs for the transatlantic slave trade.
Recent displays of contemporary craft have shown that there is demand from the Walker Art Gallery’s audience for ceramic art. The display of What is a wealthy merchant’s house made of? will provide a link between the collections of paintings and historic ceramics. Re-interpreting them in this way will engage audiences and develop the Gallery’s collections for the 21st century. Claire Partington’s new commission is displayed at the Walker Art Gallery, together with loan works from the artist from June to November 2022.
Claire Partington (b. 1973, Wigan, UK) lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include Winston Wächter Fine Art, Seattle, US (2022) and James Freeman Gallery, London (2021). Group shows include Mindy Solomon Gallery, Miami, US; Compton Verney, UK (both 2021). She received the Virginia A. Groot Award in 2018.
Image © Claire Partington
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society with the support of National Museums Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery.