To mark the final year of centenary commemorations for the First World War, the V&A is once again displaying its 16 ceramic poppies. These formed part of the poignant, dramatic and phenomenally successful installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by Paul Cummins MBE and Tom Piper MBE, which was sited in the dry moat of the Tower of London between 5 August and 11 November 2014. Over 5 million people came to see the 888,246 flowers which were gradually ‘planted’ by thousands of volunteers throughout the exhibition period. The combined visual impact of such a vast number of poppies, each one representing a British or Allied military fatality, caused many to reflect quietly on the scale of lives lost.
Afterwards, all the poppies were sold and proceeds from their sale were given to six Services charities. The Museum purchased 16 poppies, each subtly different from the next, in memory of the 16 members of V&A staff who died in the First World War. Their names are recorded on a memorial tablet in the Cromwell Road entrance to the Museum:
Research by Danielle Thom in her blog of 4 August 2014 revealed further information concerning these men and discusses the commissioning of the memorial from the sculptor Eric Gill. This year, a biography of Gerald Caldwell Siordet has been published on the centenary of his death, by his great-nephew Dr James Caldwell Ritchie, and a copy has generously been presented to the Museum by the family.
The ceramic artist Paul Cummins MBE (born 1977) drew inspiration for the title and concept of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red from a poem he discovered among the wills of First World War soldiers in Derbyshire Record Office. He then approached Historic Royal Palaces with his idea for a commemorative installation at the Tower of London. The dry moat had been used at the start of the First World War as a training ground for City of London workers who had enlisted to fight. Under Cummins’ direction, the ceramics poppies were hand-made in Derby, Stoke-on-Trent and Warwickshire. Historic Royal Palaces invited the stage designer Tom Piper MBE (b.1964) to devise the overall ‘planting’ scheme. This included two dramatic metal structures which appeared to pour poppies from a window (the ‘Weeping Window’) and splash poppies out of the moat (the ‘Wave’). These are presently on tour and will ultimately be housed permanently at the Imperial War Museum (London and Manchester). For further information, please see:
and my blog of 23 September 2015, written at the time of the first display at the V&A of the Museum’s 16 ceramic poppies: https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/network/vas-sixteen-ceramic-poppies-now-on-display
The website of the organisation 14-18 NOW invites everyone who purchased poppies from Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red to ‘plant’ theirs digitally at https://www.wherearethepoppiesnow.org.uk/
The V&A’s 16 ceramic poppies will be on display in the Members’ Reception Landing, upstairs from the west end of the Hintze Sculpture Gallery, between 1 November 2017 and 21 November 2018.