Manchester’s Overlooked Soul

History becoming timelessness

In amongst the Manchester Art Gallery collection hangs a painting by Alphonse Valette, created in 1912.  The painting is entitled India House- a hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric image of the River Medlock embraced on either side by a stunning composition of architectural splendour that was then relatively new, but is now considered historic.  Valette is credited as being one of the first artists to recognise beauty in the industrialised world.  He was also mentor and teacher to another artist, L.S. Lowry.  This is a significant painting by a significant artist.

            Within the gallery, the viewer is given no clue that the scene still exists in reality on Oxford Road, a mere ten minutes walk from where the painting hangs.  One imagines that any art lover would be delighted to know that and make their way to such an interesting location, the same way they might wish to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny.  But if they did, this is what they would find.

            Rather than a discovery of delight, the visitor is confronted by an ugly perspex barrier, which one imagines was created to allow the public to see through it, albeit with a clarity on a par with Vaseline streaked sunglasses.  But even this dismal proposition is obstructed by a coat of fly posting and graffiti and anyone less than six feet tall would struggle to see over it.  Hundreds of people probably pass by every day without even knowing what’s there.

            But look what lies beyond, an instantly recognisable scene from Valette’s painting.  There are layers of meaning and appreciation to be had in this haunting location; cultural, artistic and architectural.  A sense of history becoming timelessness, an atmosphere that fires the imagination, the knowledge that where one stands, once stood Valette as the world’s first industrial city exploded around him. As Manchester is developed and we look to the new, we can perhaps all be guilty of missing the stuff that gives the city its soul.  Manchester is not awash with such glories as many cities in Europe are.  All the more reason to cherish what we have.

We suggest we strive for something that people can easily see through or over, a beautiful gateway to fascination.  Not just for the art lovers, but for the passers by, who in the midst of their busy lives can happen across another world, if only for a moment and feel a sense of wonder.