Wednesday, June 29, 2011

London, II - Vivien and Larry's London

So my main objective for going to London at the end of May was to take part in A Weekend with the Oliviers, organised by Kendra.

It was two days spent with a legion of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier aficionados, bliss! The schedule consisted of a tour of the Old Vic on Saturday morning, followed by a screening of That Hamilton Woman (Vivien in the role of the infamous Emma Hamilton and Larry as Nelson, naturally). Sunday was my personal favourite venture of the weekend, we met at the Olivier statue at the National Theatre and from there began our Vivien and Laurence themed walking tour of London.

Olivier's statue outside the NT, erected in 2007. Olivier was the first director of the National Theatre, 1963-1973 (during its years at the Old Vic).

Aldwych Theatre, Laurence Olivier directed Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire here in 1949.

Vivien as Blanche du Bois, 1949.

The Savoy, where Vivien and Larry first formally met in 1937.

Vivien's memorial plaque (erected by in, as Vivien has no formal gravestone, having being cremated after her death).
St. Paul’s The Actor’s Church, Covent Garden

The Ivy
This famous, exclusive restaurant near Covent Garden was frequented by London’s smart set, including Vivien Leigh who could often be spotted dining alongside Noel Coward and other theatrical luminaries.

The Noel Coward Theatre
This is where the Old Vic company performed during and after the war while waiting for bomb damage at the Old Vic to be repaired. The stage at the New Theatre is where Laurence Olivier officially became a theatrical superstar during the 1944-1945 season.

Ambassadors Theatre
Just next door to the Ivy, Vivien Leigh became an overnight star when The Mask of Virtue opened here in 1935.

Vivien as Henriette Duquesnoy in The Mask of Virtue, 1935, a reformed prostitute masquerades as 'a paragon of innocence'.

Afternoon tea - Having a very creamy waffle at Patisserie Valerie, 44 Old Compton Street, London

St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, Vivien Leigh’s public memorial service was held here.

Her Majesty's Theatre, Just across the street from the Theatre Royal. Vivien Leigh starred alongside Ivor Novello in The Happy Hypocrite here in 1936.

Theatre Royal Haymarket, When The Doctor’s Dilemma came to London in 1943, it opened at this theatre and ran for over a year because audiences were thrilled to be able to see Scarlett O’Hara in the flesh.

Publicity still of Vivien as Jennifer Dubedat in The Doctor's Dilemma, taken by Angus McBean. Also, Larry's favourite photo of Vivien.

St. James House, Holland Park, London. The former site of the St James’ Theatre. It was demolished and rebuilt as a modern office building, but the alley between the office and the pub next door boasts a relief of the Oliviers in the Two Cleopatras as well as a plaque commemorating the protest to save the theatre that was led by Vivien Leigh in 1958.

This flat (flat D) in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in London, was purchased by the Oliviers in 1958, Vivien lived here until her death in 1967. Today it is occupied by Louise Rainer.

Vivien & Larry at Durham Cottage, Chelsea, SW3

Vivien Leigh's Duel of Angels costume, Dior, V&A

Laurence Olivier's Oedipus Rex costume, 1946, V&A

For a comprehensive list of these and other Larry and Vivien places of interest around London, you can find them here and here.

After this exhausting day, we went for some food in Leicester Square before going to see Susie Lindeman's performance as Vivien in A Letter to Larry. Tarquin Olivier was in residence! I was too shy to shake his hand but others took the opportunity. It was a strong performance by Ms. Lindeman, based on Larry's request for divorce from Vivien, so some dark subject matter was being dealt with.

We then said our respective goodbyes, and took our exhausted but happy selves home.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

London, I - The Cult of Beauty

I got the train down to London from Glasgow, arriving on Thursday evening. Jostled with my bag through the rush hour and finally made it to south London where I was staying, despite a few slip up and I caught the bus driver on a good day, despite my Londoner friends horror stories!

Friday afternoon, May 27th, I made my highly anticipated visit to The Cult of Beauty exhibition currently on at the V&A. This exhibition explores the origins, influence and legacy of the Aesthetic movement from 1860-1900. The Aesthetic movement found its roots in the Art Movement ('art for arts sake'), it was a departure from the cloying historicism (Gothic/Medieval revival) that was in vogue in the mid-century and dominated interior and decorative arts. The Aesthetic movement was often the brunt of mockery in the popular press, one of the most popular comic operas of the day - Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado pokes fun at the aesthetes preoccupation with Japan, such was the craze for everything japonisme. Some famous aesthetes included Oscar Wilde (who went on a lecture tour of America, themed around 'The House Beautiful'), Dante Rosseti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and James Whistler.

Aestheticism in decorative arts is recognizable by oriental motifs and themes, naturalistic themes such as the use of birds (peacock feathers) and flowers (sunflowers), the use of such motifs is heavily symbolic. In furniture, the revulsion towards the heavily decorative High Victorian style is palpable, exotic woods like mahogany were used, and executed in simple forms inspired by Japan (Godwin, for example). Aestheticism spread to dress (rational dress, Liberty & Co.), illustration (Beardsley) to poetry (Yeats). Aestheticism was a way of life, not merely a 'style'. It is linked to Pre-Raphaelitism and Arts and Crafts.

Some of my favourite pieces, in the running order of the exhibition (more or less) -

The Butterfly Cabinet (1877/78), James McNeill Whistler and E. W. Godwin, on loan from The Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow.
This mahogany cabinet was designed by Whistler's friend, the architect Edward W. Godwin for the 1878 Universal Exhibition, Paris. Whistler added painted decoration in yellow and gold based on floral motifs and the butterfly, which was Whistler's monogram.
This caught my eye because I had seen it a few months ago in its permanent home at The Hunterian Museum at my university (Glasgow).

Veronica Veronese, 1872, Dante Gabriel Rossetti
This painting depicts a fictional Rossetti was inspired by the Venetian painters and this is where the female sitter takes her Italianate name from.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti reading proofs of 'Sonnets and Ballads' to Theodore Watts Dunton in the drawing room at 16 Cheyne Walk, 1882, Henry Treffry Dunn

Table, mahogany, 1867-1868, Edward William Godwin
In the Japonisme style, this was one of the most popular and reproduced items of furniture in this style.

Elkington & Co. (Birmingham), 'Japonisme' teaset, 1886

Esther (1865), John Everett Millais

Liberty & Co. tea gown, 1894
Made for one of the members of the Liberty family. Arthur Lasenby Liberty is representative of the self made Victorian businessman. His store did a roaring trade in aesthetic furniture, textiles, etc. This gown conforms to the ideals of the rational dress movement. The gown in aesthetic in style in the historic detailing to the sleeves and bodice, done in a Renaissance style.

Castellani brooch and matching hair ornaments, 1875-1895
This brooch and the later, matching hair ornaments are thought to have been given by the painter William Holman Hunt to his wife Edith.

Head of A Sicilian Boy, 1890s, Wilhelm von Gloeden.

Mors Janua Vitae, 1861, Harry Bates
'Death is the gate of [everlasting] life', Bronze, ivory, and mother of pearl

My only gripe with this exhibition was the audio visual element - they have colourful projections of sunflowers and peacock feathers on the walls which is unusual, eye catching, nothing wrong with that - but I disliked the 'reconstruction' of Whistler's Peacock Room. It was a small circular imitation of a 'room' that you entered into and there are projections of images of Whistler's elaborate decorative murals. It was formally created for the British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland's London home, who wanted a place to showcase his blue-and-white Chinese porcelain collection. I felt it was unnecessary, it broke up the flow of the room it was showcased in - and on a base level, rooms are usually square and it didn't feel like a room when I entered it (so what that was it trying to achieve if not a 'roomy' feel, surely?), it was just a mass of screens with pictures of the room floating around on it, it was disconcerting and didn't seem to be a draw for many of the visitors that were there either.

I loved the peephole that enabled the visitor to 'peep' into a reconstruction of Rossetti's sitting room at 16 Cheyne Walk, this is near the beginning of the exhibition. On the whole, the exhibition was true to the spirit of the movement that inspired it - from the 'greenery-yallery' walls, the variety of exhibits (from photographs to paintings) and the display of 'fine art' alongside decorative arts, as it was intended.

Interesting links
Liberty's window is currently a tribute to the exhibition in the V&A that they played a significant part in
Also from the V&A, an interesting blog on the installation of the exhibition - 'Creating the Cult of Beauty'. Great to see how a major exhibition is installed and marketed.*(Edit - 19/6/2012) That blog has now been archived here!

Images via (and copyrighted to) the V&A, The National Portrait Gallery, The Hunterian Gallery Glasgow and the paintings through Google Images. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

I first posted these pictures of my Dad taken in the late sixties and early seventies (as a student in Dublin) last year. I don't have many old photos of him and these are my favourite.

I want to thank my Dad for fostering my love of history by watching all those documentaries when I was a kid, answering all my questions, taking me on father and daughter holidays to historically significant places in Ireland, England and Italy. I'm sorry for being a difficult child and having all those tantrums. Thank you for supporting me through a degree you didn't quite grasp because it wasn't something practical like nursing.

We never say it out loud (being Irish) but I love my Dad very much. I don't know what I would do without you. Happy Father's Day and I hope you got my card:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

York, Part II

Continuing on from Part II.

Next up on Thursday the 19th was York Castle Museum, 'the best day out in history'. The museum is best known for its recreated Victorian street, Kirkgate. It is the oldest recreated street in Britain (c. 1938) and apparently pioneered this visitor experience which is now used by thousands of museums worldwide. The street is named for Dr. John Kirk who desired to create a museum of everyday life and even rescued Victorian shop fronts. I was skeptical at first, having been at many such things before, more wary of the wooden 'lifelike' figures with their dated, badly applied make-up and flaking skin paint. However, I quickly revised that opinion because it was executed very well. There was little to none recordings of horses hooves on the cobblestones or market sellers hawking their wares in cockney accents. The window displays were magnificent, museum displays in their own right. I only wish my camera could take better pictures because I'd love to show some to you.

Hannah in the 1890s schoolroom.

Other parts of the museum celebrated themes of life - birth, marriage and death. There was also a current exhibition on about cleanliness throughout the nineteenth century to present day.

Two nineteenth-century wedding dresses, I'm sorry I can't be more specific, I can't find my notes.
I love seeing how styles of dress change over time and according to social/economic conditions of the time. Did you know that Queen Victoria was the first aristocrat to wear white for her wedding dress? Up until then wedding dresses were dyed (so that they could be worn again and also as a display of wealth). Dye was expensive and so only peasants and poorer classes wore white on their wedding day. The connotations of colour are powerful. White suggesting humility and a certain naivety, which applies less in our age - where white or cream are popular choices for wedding gowns because its an impractical colour to wear in every day life and we can't afford the dry cleaning bill - that's luxury for you.

Having dabbled in some museum studies this year, I have to say that my eye is now trained to notice methods of display and labeling of exhibits. We've even debated the use of mannequins, life-like/face/no face? I think that the mannequins used at York Castle Museums to display their costume collection are possibly some of the best I've seen. I love how they've used swatches of material to convey the effect of hair, and only the vaguest suggestion of facial features.

Then onto Leeds and its art gallery! An uexpected surprise, a beautiful spacious gallery. I loved the layout and colour schemes (trumping neutral, inoffensive white for brash blues, who knew that'd work so well?) The paintings they hold in their collection is impressive.

Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1894.
The colours, textures, composition! Oh this was bewitching in person!

Arthur Hacker, The Temptation of Sir Percival, 1894.

Evelyn de Morgan, The Valley of Shadows, 1899.

Francis Bacon, Head VI, 1949.

Percy Wyndham Lewis, Praxitella, 1921.

The Leeds Art Gallery café was equally as impressive, gorgeous mosaics everywhere, reminiscent of a nineteenth-century tea room. I had courgette and lime cake, that I throughly enjoyed. Unfortunately the only thing that out a damper on this particular visit was our struggle to find the shop which was inconveniently located somewhere near the rear of the building and had closed by the time we had found it at twenty to five. Which seems such an odd time to close. No lovely postcards for me on this trip.

That evening we got back and ate great Thai at The Old Siam, which was consistently busy, always a good sign! Afterward we went on a terrible ghost tour of York. Word of warning - if you're doing a ghost tour in York, avoid the one that meets outside York Minster. We encountered some hauntings of our own later on, courtesy of an eerie pub toilet. We did get to walk amongst the Shambles though which was lovely in itself.

Friday was our last day, and we made one final excursion, along the City Walls, to the York Art Gallery. The highlight of which you see below, along with 'Goodbye to all That' by Stanley Spencer.

David Hockney, Bigger Trees Near Warter (Or/Ou Peinture Sur Le Motif Pour Le Nouvel Age Post-Photographique), 2007.
Funnily enough, I preferred its postcard reproduction. Still not sure how I feel about this. It is eerie to look at.

York train station was large, clean but still retained a Victorian character. The rush of going traveling to all parts of the country, trains coming and going.