Chris and I spent a few hours this weekend totally enthralled by the Ocean Liners: Speed and Style exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Four years in the making, in conjunction with the Peabody Essex Museum Salem, this exhibition sets out to showcase the design story of the greatest ocean liners from 1850 to 1962. Over 250 carefully selected objects from ‘floating palaces’ such as the Queen Mary, the Normandie and the Titanic provide the inspiration as symbols of a long forgotten golden age.
Immediately, you are presented with eye-catching posters that aim to draw in passengers and promote ocean travel.
This section also includes an amazingly detailed 22 foot-long model of the Queen Elizabeth which was created in 1940 to stand in the window of Cunard’s Broadway offices.
Next, we move onto the interior of the luxury liners with exquisite examples of nineteenth century panelling and ‘minimalist’ modern armchairs, sofas and tables.
Throughout the twentieth century, these liners became symbols of national pride and the best designers, engineers and architects were charged with developing ever more opulence and advances in technology.
There are, of course, reminders that of the great tragedies of the time like the loss of the Titanic and the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 by a German U-boat.
The exhibition touches on some of the engineering challenges such as those experienced by The Great Eastern and includes a huge pattern used to cast the outer casing for one of the turbines from Queen Elizabeth 2.
The fascinating ‘Life of Board’ section looks at the leisure activities on board and includes a number of video presentations on a loop. I was particularly interested in the 1970s film of the Canberra as I had cruised on her as a child.
There is also a vast contrast between the elaborate dinner services and luxury travel cases from first class and the rather basic third class cabins.
Fashion, especially in the upper classes, also features and the centerpiece reproduction of the ‘grand descente’ (grand staircase) is quite glorious.
A small theatre area includes clips from a number of Hollywood movies that have featured ocean liners. This includes Titanic, The Poseidon Adventure and we were reminded that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was initially set on a transatlantic crossing of the imaginary ‘Iles de Paris’. We re-watched this movie when we got home that night. Fun but rather dated!
The V&A store stocks a number of related merchandise items including copies of the promotional posters.
This is a fascinating and very informative exhibition and we would recommend visiting before it closes on 17th June 2018. From 15th September 2018, it moves to V&A Dundee.
Tickets: 0207 942 2000 or vam.ac.uk Prices are shown below.
This exhibition is sponsored by Viking Cruises who were kind enough to provide us with free tickets. A model of the upcoming Viking Jupiter was also included which demonstrates how far we have come in modern cruise ship design.