29 June 2018

Victoria and Albert Museum Special Exhibition - Ocean Liners: Speed and Style (20 April 2018)

A limited duration special exhibition on the style and design of ocean liners and the fashion and art they inspired prompted MoMI's first visit to London's Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum on the afternoon of 20 April 2018.  Although admission to the V&A's general galleries is always free, entrance to Ocean Liners: Speed and Style cost a steep £18; nevertheless, it was a fascinating and worthwhile visit and expense.  Enjoy the following photo tour of this now-closed temporary exhibition. 
The main entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum on Cromwell Road in London's Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The museum was established in 1852 and now ranks as the world's largest museum dedicated to decorative arts and design, with 145 galleries covering 12.5 acres. The museum's collection of ceramics, glass, textiles, costumes, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, sculpture, prints, photographs, and drawings from around the world spans 5,000 years of human history.
The front and reverse sides of the ticket stub for admission to Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, 20 April 2018.
Sponsored by Viking Cruises, the temporary exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed and Style was open from 3 February to 17 June 2018.  Upon entering the gallery, visitors were treated to a giant model of the Cunard liner RMS Queen Elizabeth.  The model, made by Basset-Lowke Ltd around 1938, was one of several monumental models of the ship that would have been displayed in the Cunard head office or booking offices in order to entice passengers to book a voyage.  
A collection of advertising posters commissioned by various steamship lines to advertise their passenger services during the golden age of ocean travel in the 1920s and 1930s. This photo shows posters for the Orient Line (UK), Cunard Line (UK), Cosulich Line (Italy), Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (France), Canadian Pacific Steamships (Canada), Norddeutscher Lloyd (Germany), Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (UK), Red Star Line (USA-Belgium), Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes (France), and Italia Flotte Riunite (Italy).
A few of the brochures produced by steamship lines to advertise themselves in a competitive travel market.  On the left is a brochure for the United States Lines' SS America (circa 1950).  In the middle, a brochure for the Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line) Motor Passenger Ship Asama Maru, dating from 1931.  On the right, another NYK Line brochure, 'Cabin Ships in Pacific Travel', also dating from 1931.
A mural (oil on canvas) painted in 1901 by Arthur Heinrich Wilhelm Fitger, entitled 'Our Future Lies Upon the Water' and displayed in the first class smoking room aboard the 14,908 ton German Norddeutscher Lloyd liner Kronprinz Wilhelm.  It depicts Germany's growing ambitions as a maritime power, personified by a muscular youth holding a trident and a German imperial flag.  Competing against British maritime supremacy, the Kronprinz Wilhelm was at one point the fastest ship across the Atlantic, capturing the Blue Riband for fastest crossing in 1902.  
A chair from the first class dining saloon aboard a Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) liner, dating from around 1900.  It features a heavy cast-iron base that would have been bolted to the deck to keep it in place even in the heaviest seas, as well as a reversible seat, with a comfortable upholstered side for colder climates and a lightweight caned side for warmer climates.
A carved panel entitled 'Honour and Glory Crowning Time', installed in the 18-metre-high grand staircase aboard the White Star liner RMS Olympic around 1911.  The panel depicts the allegorical characters Honour and Glory flanking a clock (no longer present) and surrounded by garlands.  The panel suggested humanity's control over time and space.  An identical carved panel was installed on Olympic's sistership, RMS Titanic
Doors from the embarkation hall and panelling from the communications gallery aboard the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT) liner SS France (1912).  When commissioned, the SS France was the CGT's largest ship, with sumptuous interiors evoking the era of Louis XIV, the so-called Sun King, and his palace at Versailles.  The sun motif was used throughout the ship, including on these metalwork doors that separated the embarkation hall from adjacent corridors.  Flanking the doors are two armchairs from the SS France's first class dining room.
A 1936 painting of the first class dining room aboard the Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary, by Herbert Davis Richter.  The dining room's dark wood panelling and paintings of idyllic rural scenes were meant to evoke the feel of an English country house.  This painting was likely commissioned for display in the Cunard offices in Liverpool. 
A cast aluminum relief panel entitled 'Speed and Progress' by French-born sculptor Maurice Lambert.  The panel, echoing the Art Deco style popular in the mid-1930s, was installed in RMS Queen Mary's travel office. 
A Torah ark from the synagogue aboard RMS Queen Mary.  Crafted from oak with maple and cherry veneers, the ark was designed in the shape of a Hamesh, or hand, a symbol of blessing and protection in Jewish tradition.  The hammered metalwork on the door depicts a temple menorah.  Increasing numbers of Jewish travellers, many escaping persecution in 1930s Europe, led many steamship lines to instal synagogues aboard their ships. 
Several items of furniture and decor from the Cunard liners RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth: an upholstered armchair and maple-and-lacquer table (1936) from Queen Mary's cabin class Long Gallery; carpets from a first class stateroom (1947) and the drawing room (1934) aboard Queen Mary; and a vase (1938) from the second class main staircase on Queen Elizabeth.  Mounted on the wall behind the table is a panel, entitled 'Birds of Africa' (1952), from the Promenade Deck entrance aboard the British-India Steam Navigation Company liner SS Uganda; the panel uses 35 different types of wood. 
Chairs from the first class dining room (left) and grand salon (right) of the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique liner Île de France (1927). The Île de France was the first major ocean liner built after the end of the First World War and the first to be entirely decorated in the Art Deco style. The decoration of the ship's huge grand salon recalled French decorative traditions of the past, with Louis Philippe-inspired furniture, floral Aubusson tapestries, and sculptural figures personifying the rivers of France.
Items from the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique liner SS Normandie (1935).  More fire-resistant than wood panelling, the lacquered gold leaf panel wall by Jean Dunand, entitled 'Les Sports', was originally installed in the first class smoking room aboard Normandie.  Furnishings from Normandie's 140-metre-long first class grand salon included rich red lacquer tables, and seating upholstered in orange and silver Aubusson tapestry, embroidered with flowers that grew in the French colonies.      
Two of the 12 gilded bronze medallions which adorned the doors to Normandie's first class dining room.  Designed by Hungarian-born metalworker Adalbert Szabo, the medallions depict wheat and grapes, symbolising agricultural abundance, and employ the Art Deco style that reached its pinnacle aboard Normandie.    
Chairs from three Italian liners: on the left, an armchair designed by Gio Ponti for the first class dining room aboard the Lloyd Sabaudo Line's Conte Grande (1928); in the middle, Gustavo Pulitzer Finali's contemporary armchair for the Italia Line's MS Augustus (1927); on the right, an easy chair designed by Nino Zoncada for the first class ballroom aboard the Eugenio C. (1966).  Marcello Mascherini's bronze sculpture, 'Dancer with Three Seagulls' (1959), adorns the wall behind but was originally installed aboard the Costa Lines ships Franca C. and, later, Eugenio C.   
An information card, menu card, and various 'Heartsease' pattern bone china dishes from the Orient Lines' SS Orcades (1948). 
A mural, entitled 'The English Pub', by Edward Bawden and originally fitted in the first class lounge aboard the Orient Line ship SS Oronsay (1951).  Bawden had a long history with the Orient Line, producing designs for menus, ceramics, and textiles.
A chair from the Britannia Restaurant aboard the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 (1969).  Designed by Robert Heritage, the 1969 Design Council Award-winning chair comprises an upholstered plywood shell laminated with Formica on an aluminum base, in keeping with the use of lightweight materials aboard the ship.
A gun-metal maze-like patterned teapot, teacup and saucer, covered jug, small jug, and sugar bowl designed by Margaret Casson for the P&O Line flagship SS Canberra (1961).  Each piece was designed for use at sea, being stable, easy to store, and practical to use; for example, the jug handle was set on its side to facilitate pouring.  
A low-relief aluminum wall sculpture designed by Austin M. Purvis Jr for the first class grand staircase aboard the United States Lines ship SS United States (1951).  This sculpture was one of 200 aluminum relief sculptures designed by Purvis for the ship, depicting birds and flowers representing different American states.   
A display case houses a model of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's SS Great Eastern (1858); a cutaway model showing the arrangement of gyrostabilisers on the Italia Line ship Conte di Savoia (1932); a model of Compagnie Générale Transatlantique's SS Normandie, which was exhibited at the British Industries Fair in London in 1935 and at the 1937 International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life in Paris; models of propellers used on the British liners Great Britain, Mauretania, and Queen Mary; and a copy of the 'Queen Mary Book of Comparisons', published by Cunard-White Star Line in May 1936.
A closeup view of two pages of the 'Queen Mary Book of Comparisons', providing some of the ship's impressive statistics in comparison to the power of railway locomotives and the height of famous landmarks. 
A closer view of the model of SS Normandie.  In addition to its renowned Art Deco-inspired interior decor, the Normandie featured a number of innovative design features to improve performance, such as a raked hull and rounded, bulbous bow to minimise water resistance and permit greater speed, and teardrop-shaped funnels to reduce wind resistance.  Although only two funnels were actually required to vent exhaust gases, a third, dummy funnel was added to balance the ship's profile and was used as a kennel for passengers' dogs.  
A selection of artefacts from two famous ocean liners: a red wooden deck chair from the SS Normandie (1935); an aluminum/nylon deck chair from the SS United States (1952); and a mannequin dressed in a Compagnie Générale Transatlantique bellboy's uniform, possibly from the Normandie.  Behind the mannequin is a set of painted enamelled metal signal code flags designed by Lewis E. York for the SS United States and originally mounted behind the ship's indoor pool.  Although unknown by most passengers, the flags actually read 'Come on in, the water's fine' in the International Code of Signals.    
A deckchair from the RMS Titanic, recovered from the sea after the ship sank in the North Atlantic on 14 April 1912.  This deckchair would have been reserved by a passenger for the crossing, together with cushions and a wool blanket to protect against chilly Atlantic weather.  Once reserved, a steward would place a card with the passenger's name in the metal holder on the chair's back. 
A display of vintage swimwear, from the conservative one-piece swimming costumes of the 1920s to the scandalously revealing two-piece bikini of the 1960s.  A large video wall in the background displaying a panoramic ocean view makes gallery visitors feel like they are standing on the lido deck of an ocean liner.   
A display of eveningwear arranged as if making a grand entrance to a first class dining room aboard a classic ocean liner.  On the left is a tuxedo worn by US diplomat Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr (1897-1961) from 1930 to 1950.  The women's evening dresses, many designed by leading French couturiers, were worn by New York socialite Miss Emilie Grigsby (1876-1964) during her many voyages aboard the Olympic, Aquitania, and Lusitania in the 1910s and 1920s. 
A personalised Maison Goyard luggage set belonging to Edward, Duke of Windsor (1894-1972) in the 1940s, on loan from the Miottel Museum in Berkeley, California.  The Duke and Duchess of Windsor each owned a Maison Goyard luggage set, and took frequent voyages between France and the United States, often with large quantities of baggage: on one trip aboard the SS United States, the Duke and Duchess brought aboard 100 pieces of luggage. 

A bed from first class cabin C23 aboard the Cunard Line ship RMS Mauretania (1906-07).  Manufactured at the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson shipyard in Wallsend on Tyne, UK, the bed was designed to fit perfectly against the curved interior of the ship's hull in order to maximise limited cabin space, with the use of wicker intended to make it lightweight.  
Attire worn by ocean travellers in the 1950s and 1960s.  On the left, a Savile Row suit worn by British businessman Geoffrey Osmint (1929-2006) at the Captain's Table aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1969.  On the right, a dress worn in an advertisement for the Italia Line's SS Andrea Doria in 1956.  Also displayed in this tableau are a cocktail table from the first class observation lounge aboard the SS United States and a crystal and aluminum wall panel from the ship's midnight-blue private restaurant, designed by Charles Tissot.     
A glazed earthenware 'cube' tea set designed by George Clews & Co. Ltd for the Cunard Line in 1936.  The set includes a coffee pot, a teapot, a milk jug, a cream jug, and a sugar bowl.  
A display of ocean liner china from various companies and time periods.  Several of the dishes are marked with the insignia of the steamship lines, such as the Transatlantic Steamship Company and the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O).  The small plate in the centre is a kosher plate from the Cunard liner RMS Mauretania, dating from 1906.  On the bottom right is a two-handled serving dish in P&O Line's 'Caledonian' pattern, dating from 1846.   
A collection of menus from various liners: a 1937 menu from the NYK Line, 'Sukiyaki: A Dainty Japanese Dish' (top left); a 24 April 1955 dinner menu from the Union Castle Line ship SS Rhodesia Castle, adorned with Rhodesian butterflies and moths (top right); a 1935-39 menu for passengers' dogs aboard the SS Normandie (middle left); a mid-1930s menu card for the Orient Line, entitled 'Parakeets' (middle right); a 16 August 1908 dinner menu from the Cunard Line ship RMS Lusitania (bottom left); and a 21 July 1922 third class dinner menu from the Cunard ship RMS Scythia.
A display of tableware for the grand luxe apartments and first class aboard the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique liner SS Normandie, dating from 1934. The collection includes glassware by Lalique and Daum, silverware by Puiforcat and Christofle, and porcelain by Haviland, as well as items in electroplated nickel silver, silver plate, and porcelain with platinum leaf.
A 1932 model for a streamlined ocean liner by industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, who once exclaimed, 'For years when aboard a have seen better modern architecture than you have ashore'.
A display of art and artefacts inspired by ocean liners, including a painting entitled 'Paquebot Paris' (1921-22), by Charles Demuth and a 1930s men's silk kimono jacket with a lining depicting the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company liner RMS Empress of Asia and various exotic Pacific destinations.  
Eileen Gray's Fauteil Transatlantique (Transat chair), a Modernist armchair inspired by ocean liner deckchairs, known in French as 'transats'. Gray designed the chair for the balcony of her Modernist villa overlooking the French Riviera in the late 1920s. The chair's frame dates from 1925-30, while the upholstery is from the 1960s.
A fragment of wooden panel from an overdoor in the first class lounge of the RMS Titanic, on loan from the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is decorated with carvings of musical instruments in the Rococo style, indicative of the high-quality decoration aboard the ship. This piece is the largest remaining fragment of the Titanic, which broke in half and sank on the night of 14 April 1912. This exhibition marked the first time the piece had been seen in Europe since Titanic departed on her fateful maiden voyage.
A 2017 model of the Viking Ocean Cruises ship Viking Jupiter closes the exhibition, pointing out that, although the era of ocean liners is over, ocean travel aboard cruise ships is more popular today than it has ever been.

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