To open Virtual Members’ Week 2020, the Membership Team wanted to share their favourite objects from across the V&A’s amazing collections. The objects below range from the beautiful to the bizarre and prove that at the V&A there really is something to sate every kind of curiosity.
Eleanor, Membership Engagement Manager – Le Jugement de Paris, George Barbier
I’m particularly attracted to the elegant Art Deco world of George Barbier’s fashion illustrations. I love his extravagant parties, plush boudoirs and dark romantic trysts. Looking closer often reveals a wry sense of humour. Le Jugement de Paris, published in 1923, refers to Paris judging the fairest beauty between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. The composition and drapery of the dresses suggests that this could take place in classical antiquity, but the ogling suited-up man transports you back to the scene of a smoky party in the roaring twenties. It’s a never ending beauty contest that spans millennia.
Emma, Membership Officer – Marcel Lajos Breuer Armchair, 1936
My favourite galleries in the museum are the ones that you’re pretty sure you can find without a map, but still end up asking someone for help after walking past the Great Bed of Ware for the third time. It feels like such an achievement to reach the Furniture Gallery. One of my favourite objects there is this armchair by Marcel Breuer. It was commissioned for a flat in the Highpoint housing complex in Highgate, so when I see it, I imagine myself relaxing and looking out at the London skyline. From now on I’ll be calling this my imaginary ‘Work-from-home’ Armchair, as it seems perfectly designed to sit in and get some work done.
Ross, Membership Services Manager – Rockefeller Center and Chrysler Building Tops, New York, photograph by Ilse Bing
I’ve always been fascinated by city architecture and how humans change the landscape around them. Big cities can seem chaotic and disorderly but by lifting her camera to the building tops instead of focusing on the busy street below, Bing creates a sense of calm above the hustle and bustle. The design of the buildings reflect the New York gridiron streets and remind us that these seemingly chaotic places are often planned to be as efficient and functional as possible, constantly shifting and adapting to the pace of life of the people who inhabit them.
Stefanie Agar, Membership Events Manager – Commemorative Plaques for Jimmy and Tycho
I had been coming to the V&A as a member for more than 13 years, 6 of those as a volunteer, so I thought I knew the Museum pretty well. One hot summer day, however, looking for a shady spot in the courtyard, I spied the plaques dedicated to Henry Cole’s faithful terriers, Tycho and Jim. Now as a full-time staff member, these pieces from the past are a regular reminder that there’s always something to find hidden around every corner here at the Museum.
Dorita, Membership Assistant – Embroidered Evening Coat, Schiaparelli and Cocteau
I have always been inspired by the way fashion is celebrated at the V&A. Searching for stories within vintage wardrobes, the Fashion Gallery is a place I always try to visit during my day. In this evening coat by Elsa Schiaparelli, I can see fashion and art connect in the most exceptional way, and feel the spirit of the 1930s Parisian artistic community. The design of Jean Cocteau embroidered on the back reminds me of the cover of his most known novel Les Enfants Terrible and makes the coat a surreal piece of art offering the most romantic optical illusion.
Mary, Senior Membership Manager – Bush Radio
I love seeing ‘everyday’ items in museums. Its design is instantly recognisable, simple and stylish, and in these days of isolation the radio is a symbol of connection with the outside world.
Maria, Membership Assistant – Brooch by Barbara Paganin
One of my favourite objects in the collection is this small and bright brooch, made in Italy in 2011 by Barbara Paganin. One of the reasons I like it is because it’s cast from a natural shape, a broccoli romanesco (which I also enjoy). Another interesting fact is the material used, dental acrylic, not only allows for such captivating colours, but is also very hard-wearing. So even though it looks very delicate, this piece of jewellery might in fact be very durable.
Meg, Membership Events Officer – Figure of Reclining Woman with nodding head
This beautiful figurine contains a surprise – the porcelain head and body are two separate pieces and the head rests on a counterbalanced stem, which means a gentle tap will set it nodding away. Of course, even the gentlest of taps are not allowed anymore! George IV lined the Long Gallery of his Brighton palace, the Pavilion, with similar figures and supposedly would run the length of the room tapping the heads to make them nod to please his guests and I love objects that remind us of the humanity of the people who owned them. While the Pavilion figures all stand to attention, I particularly like the reclined pose and the haughty tilt of the chin of this V&A piece.
Ivi, Head of Membership – Nicholas Georgiadis Theatre Costume worn by Dame Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake
This object is not only exquisitely designed and very pretty, it was also worn by one of the most famous ballerinas. As a child and an aspiring ballerina, I watched this production of Swan Lake many times on video tape. Fonteyn’s brilliance as a dancer was perfectly matched by the beautiful costume. Nicholas Georgiadis was a close family friend of my grandparents and I remember meeting him at a family meal when I was young – he told us stories of famous people, Fonteyn and Nureyev included. It was a magical moment for me and when I saw the costume in the V&A collection many years later, those magical moments returned to me in an instant.
Mariana, Data Assistant – Chopines
The high-platformed shoe called the chopine had both a practical and symbolic function. The thick-soled, raised shoe was designed to protect the foot from irregularly paved and wet or muddy streets. But the enhancement of the wearer’s stature was also a way to express status and identity. Chopines were fashionable from the late fifteenth to seventeenth century in Spain and Italy. Some of them reached more than 20 inches. I love these beautiful hand-made chopines because of the incredible materials, and because not only wealthy women were entitled to wear them, courtesans did wear them too so despite adding many inches to one’s height, they were a great leveller!