Secrets of the Museum – 2.5 expanded

Digital Media
August 17, 2021

In Episode 5, Curator Lucia Savi rifles through the museum’s 200 strong collection of handbags and makes an unlikely discovery. Two uncannily similar looking red leather boxes, owned by two very different 20th century celebrities: Winston Churchill and Oscar-winning actress Vivien Leigh.

Despatch box owned by Winston Churchill, by John Peck & Son, about 1921, England. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

Following some careful conservation work to reattach ageing leather, Churchill’s 100-year-old despatch box and Leigh’s personal writing case are displayed side by side in the exhibition Bags: Inside Out.

Vivien Leigh’s writing case, unknown, mid 20th century, England. Museum no. S.2216:1 to 3-2014. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

You can still get tickets for the exhibition every Tuesday at 12:00, or why not watch how some of the world’s most iconic bags are made.

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If you’re a Vivien Leigh fan, you can see her ‘Best Actress’ Academy Award, for the film A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) in Explore the Collections, along with one of her theatre costumes, designed by Christian Dior.

Vivien Leigh’s Best Actress Oscar, designed by Cedric Gibbons, 1952, US. Museum no. S.1019-2017. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Churchill and Leigh might seem an unlikely pairing, but they were actually good friends, who bonded – not through their shared taste in red leather fashion accessories – but their mutual love of amateur painting. A painter who could never be described as amateur is John Constable, whose masterpiece Dedham Lock and Mill is about to take a holiday to the Netherlands – if Conservator Nicola Costaras can ensure it’s safe to travel. The V&A also has an earlier sketch of Dedham Lock and Mill, one of the artist’s famous preparatory oil sketches. And if that’s whet your appetite, there’s more in our book, Constable’s Skies.

Dedham Lock and Mill, oil painting, John Constable, 1820, England. Museum no. FA.34[O]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Meanwhile, at the V&A Museum of Childhood, a huge transformation is underway – but first the objects have to be removed and safely stored. If you thought moving house was stressful, then try packing up a fully furnished 350-year-old dolls house, complete with tiny curios, like 17th-century barrels of salt, and treasure in the attic. All must be packed, prepared and accounted for, before the museum temporarily closes its doors, and building work can begin. If you’d like to receive news about the new museum, sign up for updates.

The Nuremberg House, Dolls’ House, unknown, 1673, Germany. Museum no. W.41-1922. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Lastly, Curator Simon Sladen is on the hunt for a star poster to feature in a new Theatre & Performance display. He settles on ‘Smile Orange’ from 1992, produced by the Talawa Theatre Company, and invites Yevonne Brewster, one of the founders of Talawa, to tell us more about the ‘juicy, fruity Jamaican farce’. If you fancy finding out more about the interconnected histories of Britain and the Caribbean, try our gallery trail. Or you might prefer diving into our potted history of Theatre posters, or browsing through our objects featuring smiles – all 719 of them…..

Smile Orange Poster, designed by Eureka! Design Consultants, 1992. England. Museum no. S.2789-1994. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Watch Secrets of the Museum: Series 2, Episode 5 on BBC iPlayer.

About the author

Digital Media
August 17, 2021

I've created digital content for the exhibitions 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion', 'Ocean Liners: Speed and Style', 'Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up' and 'FOOD: Bigger than the Plate'.

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