Blog 7: Expulsion from the Walker Art Gallery / 22 September 2012
“Which is the bust and which is the pedestal?” (Question posed by a tourist to his guide in Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad’ )
And so, off for a day’s training to be a gallery assistant and (possibly) a visitor’s guide at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery. Turquoise-shirted, I’m on patrol with Sheila Jones; there’s fire drill, assembly points, etiquette (let visitors through doors before you), and the welcome news that “you’re not expected to risk your life for others”.
The main difficulty that Sheila sorts out, one I’m prone to myself, is that many visitors get lost since the ordering of the Gallery’s rooms does not ascend numerically so much as scatter-ways (Room 8 adjoins Room 12 [I think] and so on). Sheila’s good fun and a fount of knowledge about the WAG – she actually prefers contemporary art to the old stuff and can date the hanging of the gallery’s various wallpapers with as much accuracy as the paintings.
So then after a brisk working lunch at the Adelphi Hotel’s Sefton Suite, (an exact contemporaneous replica of the RMS Titanic’s first class smoking lounge), I head back to the WAG to ‘shadow’ a guided tour by Emma Furness. Unfortunately no-one has appeared for guidance (or shadowing) on this occasion and I’m just interviewing Emma about past lairiness that she’s witnessed when a hue and cry breaks out and she answers her flashing radio instructing us to head to Room 8.
There’s a painting in that room called ‘The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden’ (1897) by Arthur Nowell whose obituary appeared in the ‘Methodist Recorder’ of 1940 (in the WAG archive); according to which this fellow expended much of his artistic energies painting ‘many well-known Methodist ministers’. One might deduce this from looking at the vast canvas (the Times: a fine example of the larger manner) since the 'Expulsion' is attended with the loftiest, frostiest, most disapproving, plum-snooty Angel-stares you'd ever want to duck under.'
As Eve’s long silky hair unmistakably (and conveniently for the composition), shivers across Adam’s other apple, the ground ahead is all thorns, Eden behind, a-flower; but I’d keep on trucking myself, I mean what had they actually done that was so awful? And what a lot to look forward to (the models for the painting are super-buff of course!) Irksomely, one of the Angels looks down her flared nose and over her tightly-fastened décolletage in a manner that puts me in mind of that great Daughter of Methodism ‘Mrs Thatcher’ who no doubt read of Nowell’s demise in the Recorder in 1940 when she was just 16 and – one can only hope on behalf of fallen humanity – likely grappling with her own ‘Expulsions’ at the time.
So anyway, arriving at the scene with Emma, we find that a woman has removed her raincoat in front of the said painting. Her companion, a leather-trousered male with pirate curls and earrings is taking photographs of her. The problem that we have come to resolve is that the woman has no other items of clothing with her than the discarded coat, and so she is as naked as the Expulsed heroine of Nowell’s painting behind.
We have to be nice but also firm: Emma picks up the raincoat and explains that nudity is just as forbidden in the WAG as any other public domain and so can the garment please be worn again. She then asks the photographer to desist from his enthusiastic ‘documenting’ of the palaver we’re in. Meanwhile, feeling a bit ridiculous, I try to block the lewd view from the room’s other occupants: three rubbernecking schoolgirls who had been morosely sketching from Frederic Leighton’s rather hunky, foreshortened ‘Elijah in the Wilderness’.
More assistants arrive, the Eve-impersonator grins and covers up, we all shake hands and smile in the British manner and then the couple are escorted out. I follow them through the swing-doors and watch as they swagger over the road towards a parked motorbike. They don helmets and then Eve takes the gears as Adam climbs on the back. It was all really quite deliciously suggestive and I was left hoping that they were roaring off to celebrate, in a lusty, fallen way, their ‘Expulsion from the Walker Art Gallery’.
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Keywords: religious art,visual arts