On the 7th March we began to install The Cult of Beauty exhibition. Over the last three weeks, with two teams of technicians and highly efficient exhibition co-ordinators, we installed over 250 objects in the gallery space. Paintings were hung on the blue, green and dark grey walls, objects were placed in cases and sculptures were carefully positioned on their plinths. I waited excitedly for the latest packing case to be opened and another beautiful object to emerge. Stephen Calloway inspects Albert Moore’s painting ‘Midsummer’ while it is still in its packing. Having helped to research and mentally rearrange these objects over the last two years many of them seem like old friends. Yet despite having details, dimensions and reference images, nothing could completely prepare me for the scale of some of these pieces or how they would appear in their new setting. One of the first paintings to be installed was also the largest, Frederic Leighton’s ‘The Syracusan Bride’ which is over four metres wide and looks stunning against its blue-green backdrop. I particularly like the juxtaposition of objects in our section about ‘Classical Ideals’ – the relationship between the sculptures (William Hamo Thornycroft’s ‘Lot’s Wife’ and G. F. Watt’s ‘Clytie’) and Frederick Walker’s poster design which was made for a stage production of ‘The Woman In White’ by Wilkie Collins. Here are a couple of photos taken during the installation: All of the hard work has been worth it and on Wednesday evening we were able to celebrate at the Private View of the exhibition. The Grand Entrance of the museum was decorated with blue and white pots containing branches of cherry blossom which made me feel like I had stepped into a painting by James McNeill Whistler or Albert Moore. The exhibition has already received extensive press coverage and Liberty’s department store has entered into the spirit with their window displays that give a quirky, contemporary twist to The Cult of Beauty theme. The window displays include a giant bright yellow sunflower and even a caricature of the exhibition’s curator Stephen Calloway. Satire was an integral part of the Aesthetic movement but I think Liberty’s caricaturist has been slightly kinder than Max Beerbohm was to his friend Aubrey Beardsley in this caricature from about 1894. To see more about the window displays go to Liberty’s blog: http://blog.liberty.co.uk/7392/new-windows-the-cult-of-beauty-at-the-va/ One of my favourite reviews so far was on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ where the reviewer said that they ‘would love to live in the exhibition’. Having spent the last three weeks in the exhibition space and lived with it for the past two years I also can’t think of a better place to be.
Creating 'The Cult of Beauty' (2011)
From 2 April - 17 July 2011, the V&A's spring exhibition The Cult of Beauty brought together many of the greatest Aesthetic paintings and finest decorative art of this extraordinary movement. Paintings by Aesthetic artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and James McNeill Whistler were displayed alongside the work of leading designers including William Morris and E. W. Godwin. Assistant Curator, Esmé Whittaker, documented the evolution of the exhibition and offered insights into the objects on display.