“We don’t get many visitors like yourself…”

Art Visiting Accrington’s Haworth Art Gallery was an example of just how barmy my quest to visiting all of the venues listed in Edward Morris’s Public Art Collections in North-West England actually is. Haworth boasts Europe’s largest collection of Tiffany glass on public display, some hundred and forty pieces. It fills the whole of the top floor of an old Edwardian house and is promoted on their leaflets and prominently on their website. So imagine the look of surprise on the receptionist's face when I said that I’d gone there from Liverpool to see their fine art collection, the dozen or so examples of which appear on a corridor just off the entrance hall and a stairwell. “We don’t get many visitors like yourself…” She said.

Set in its own gardens, this was home to the Haworths, a family of cotton manufacturers until 1910 when it was gifted to the people of Accrington and its been a museum ever since. The collection is gathered from purchases made by the family to be originally displayed in the local library and items bequeathed from their own collection. Presumably these filled the house until the early thirties when local lad Joseph Briggs who’d moved to New York and worked for Tiffany sent his collection back home and were then given display space. The fine art collection that now isn't on display is still available for viewing by appointment. I didn’t have an appointment so I simply enjoyed what can be seen now.

The best is undoubtedly The Laundress (1858) by Edward Frere. John Ruskin apparently said that he found Frere's work to have the depth of William Wordsworth, the grace of Joshua Reynolds, and the holiness of Fra Angelico. I don’t know if I’d agree with that, but there’s definitely something about this dusky study of a woman ironing linen. It’s actually a fairly melancholic image as Vermeerian light dips through a window across a straw summer hat (admirably painted using a twirly brush stroke) suggesting the life of leisure this woman may never have. Next to that is a portrait by Lord Leighton, Faith, a study of a Dorothy Dene clasping her hands in prayer. Dene was an actress who posed often for Leighton and can be seen in this really famous full length image of her sleeping.

One of the most famous paintings in the collection according to Edward is Storm off the French Coast by C.J. Vernet in which a peach-coloured sky lets little light onto a ship wrecked in a tempest on rocks just metres away from harbour. Apparently the artist usually painted directly from nature and would often take himself out, mid storm, to see how the elements reacted to one another so that he could capture them realistically on the canvas. It shows. This is not the kind of weather you’d want to be caught out in and you do sympathise with the sailors he shows desperately trying to get shore in the lifeboats. That’s in the stairwell at the bottom of the banister of which is a rather curious carving of a child playing bag pipes. Since Howarth did not leave many papers no one at the galleries has any idea how it got there, although they do know that he had some friends in Scotland and that its of a different type of wood, so it could have been a present.

As for the Tiffany glass. Bizarrely considering my interest in painting and sculpture I’ve never really taken to decorative arts. Looking at a glass vase or plate I can see the obvious skill and work which has gone into its creation, how in some cases as much creativity as is needed to write a piece of music, paint a picture or write a poem is required. But simply can’t enthuse about the result. So you’ll be sorry to hear, especially if you’re a fan yourself, that as I whisked myself through the Tiffany galleries it didn’t do anything for me and I don’t see any point in pretending otherwise. I did try though, and that’s the main thing I suppose.

I paradoxically very much like a two dimensional collage of Sulphar-crested Cockatoos probably made by Briggs himself, presumably because um, it looks a bit like a painting. Thin slivers of glass were cut and layered one on top of the other to mix colours together and create the right lighting effects to give the impression of precious stones, jades and opals and it’s a stunning construct the blues of the flowers contrasting well with the creams and whites of the birds. I even bought a postcard and though the photograph dulls the image a little bit it’s a permanent implication that as with anything else, that it might be just that don’t appreciate glass and pottery and particularly Tiffany, yet.

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