“A Saturday night caper all sketched on brown paper” The puzzle of the Buttermarket painting

“The Big Picture”, a 7ft x 4½ft pastel on brown paper, hung in the original Warrington Police Station in Irwell Street and moved to the parade room at the new Arpley Street Station in 1901. The picture was moved in the 1990’s to a dryer position in the main corridor.

It depicts Buttermarket Street, Warrington looking up to the Clock Tower at Market Gate. In the lower left corner is a poem signed by Percy Davies and dated 1887. An old photograph of 1905 (right) shows just how accurate the picture is. The loading beams of the warehouse in the top left centre of the picture can be clearly seen in the photograph.

The small hanging lamp in the centre of the picture is that of the old Pelican Inn. It can be seen in another old photograph from the early 1900’s.

 

 

 

“Mr Hunt’s on your right”

The stern character  on the right wielding a crop is Samuel Hunt Esq, Chief Constable of the Warrington Borough Police from 1866 to 1895.

 

Percy Davies was born in Warrington and after going to sea as a young man became one of the town’s solicitors. He was also an artist and a close friend of the well known landscape painter, George Sheffield.

The painting was made in or just before 1887 and shows the top end of Buttermarket Street before that street was widened and the circus at Market Gate built. Davies presented it to the Warrington Borough Police. But whereas the poem and its associated four figures in the foreground are undoubtedly by Davies, considerable questions have been raised as to the authorship of the rest of the painting.

Who actually painted this picture?

Natasha Lolljee, Exhibitions & Display Assistant at the Warrington Museum and Art Gallery, has pointed out that the four foreground figures are in a very different style to the rest of the painting and that the background bears a similarity to the work of George Sheffield, and especially to his painting “Old Cheap Side” which is in the Warrington Museum.

The foreground figures are primitively drawn, very stiff and unnatural. The drunk’s left leg is much longer than the right and both are twisted out of the body line.

Compare them to the small but deft figures in the background and the detailing of the folds on the lady’s cloak.

The perspective line of the pavement in the bottom right is not consistent with its lines further up, suggesting that the pavement may have been widened to accommodate the figures.

Did Percy Davies add some figures of his own to a George Sheffield original? What do you think? Why not come to the Museum and decide for yourself?

The Poem:

A Saturday Night Caper

All sketched on brown paper

With a pennorth or two of chalks

It’s a scene thats seen often

The Buttermarket common

When there you take your walks

Mr Hunt’s on your right

The Boozers quite tight

To Bridewell conducted away

The P.C. on your left

Is a waif whose bereft

Of parents who have both gone astray

 

Percy Davies 1887