The Romance of the Floating Palace

OPENING ON 3rd February, the V&A will re-imagine the golden age of ocean travel with a major new exhibition, Oceans Liners: Speed & Style. This is the first exhibition of its kind to explore the design and cultural impact of the ocean liner on an international scale. It will look at all aspects of ship design from ground-breaking engineering and fashionable interiors, to the lifestyle on board and their impact on art, architecture, design and film.

 Detail of 'Riveters' from the series 'Shipbuilding on the Clyde' by Stanley Spencer ©Imperial War Museums

Detail of 'Riveters' from the series 'Shipbuilding on the Clyde' by Stanley Spencer ©Imperial War Museums

 Painted earthenware tile panel for the saloon on Sutlej by William de Morgan, UK, c. 1882 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Painted earthenware tile panel for the saloon on Sutlej by William de Morgan, UK, c. 1882 ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Beginning with Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s steamship, the Great Eastern of 1859, the exhibition will trace ocean liner design, from the Beaux-Arts interiors of Kronprinz Wilhelm, Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic, to the floating Art Deco palaces of the Queen Mary and Normandie, and the streamlined Modernism of the SS United States and QE2.

Revealing the hidden design stories of some of the world’s greatest ocean liners, the exhibition will showcase over 250 objects, including paintings, sculpture, and ship models, alongside objects from shipyards, wall panels, furniture, fashion, textiles, photographs, posters and film. It will display objects never-before-seen in Europe, and reunite objects not seen together since they were on-board these spectacular vessels.

Highlights include a precious Cartier tiara recovered from the sinking Lusitania in 1915, a panel fragment from the Titanic’s first-class lounge, a stunning lacquered wall from the Smoking Room of the French liner, Normandie, and Stanley Spencer’s painting ‘The Riveters’ from the 1941 series Shipbuilding on the Clyde. The exhibition will also feature works by Modernist artists, designers and architects inspired by liners – including Albert Gleizes, Charles Demuth, Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier – and reveal the largely forgotten history of leading artists and designers who contributed to their design, such as William De Morgan, Richard

 Silk georgette and beaded 'Salambo' dress by Jeanne Lanvin, Paris. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silk georgette and beaded 'Salambo' dress by Jeanne Lanvin, Paris. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Riemerschmid, Jean Dunand, Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizzone. In fashion, a Christian Dior suit worn by Marlene Dietrich as she arrived in New York aboard the Queen Mary in 1950 will be on display, alongside a striking Lucien Lelong couture gown worn for the maiden voyage of Normandie in 1935. The exhibition will also showcase one of the most important flapper dresses in the V&A’s collection – Jeanne Lanvin’s ‘Salambo’ dress – a version of which was displayed at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925.

The exhibition explores how spaces on board changed as the requirements of new markets shifted attitudes, as well as the democratisation of travel and development of leisure activities in the 20th century. It will also consider the shrewd promotional strategies used by shipping com-panies to reposition the on-board experience, as emigration gave way to aspirational travel. More recently the ocean liner has been appropriated into pop-culture, literature and films, including Ronald Neame’s dystopian The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). This, and the phenomenon of the modern cruise liner will be explored, demonstrating how nostalgia for the great ‘ floating palaces’ of the past can still be felt today.

The exhibition, which runs from 3rd February until 10th June, is sponsored by Viking Cruises and Co-organised by the V&A in London and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
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