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A story of dreams

The current blockbuster show at the V&A museum was a must see this week, it runs into the new year so you still have plenty of time to visit.

You say you want a revolution? Records and rebels 1966-1970.

Put aside at least a couple of hours for this mammoth collection of 6o’s and 70’s memorabilia, from Twiggy, The Beatles and Sam Cooke right through to the final 1970’speace movement, Vietnam war and a massive Woodstock festival experience.

Imagine taking the ‘Acid test’ and be absorbed by the musical timeline that cleverly takes you through the show on the headsets provided.

 

There was so much to take in, and so much to listen to, I could have done with a second visit, which, as a friend of the V&A I can do, but one day ticket holders are not so lucky and really have to immerse themselves in a head swirling cacophony of images, memories and music, which are, I suppose quite in keeping with the surreal hedonism portrayed in the exhibition!

The portrayal of optimism, and faith in the power of youth sails through the sixties, and comes crashing down as you enter the era of the Vietnam war, and the Black power struggle in the seventies. The quote that sticks in my mind is that of a young aamerican soldier being interviewed about the casualties of the war; the interviewer asks;

“And the children?”

he replies;

“And the children”

 

Struggle against authority becomes the focus of youth and the era of festivals and the peace movement takes us into Woodstock, where we experience the music and fashions of Hendrix, Baez and The Who. The optimism of youth emerges once more and the naive optimism abounds amongst the music and naturalism of the moment.woodstock

Of course as we progress to the final room of the exhibition we are faced with the story in film of cynical consumerism, war and politics all overlaid with the soundtracks to CocaCola adverts.

I left the exhibition with an overwhelming sense of the rollercoaster of emotions I had experienced through the show, optimism, hope, idealism and freedom, juxtaposed with disillusionment, futility and brutality. John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is playing in our ears as we leave the show, epitomising all these emotions in one poignant moment.

The Age of Innocence

My recent visit to New York inspired me to revisit Edith Wharton’s 1921 Pulitzer Prize winning novel; The Age of Innocence. I first read this story of New York society too many years ago to admit to, and it’s commentary on the vagaries of upper class New York passed me by. It seemed to me, at the time, to be a superficial story of unrequited romance in a classic love triangle of frivolous emotion. My, how outlooks change as we get older!

The subtleties of a fragile new society in the recently established social whirl of 1870’s New York have a certain resonance now, and I find myself comparing todays larger American society with that of Newland Archer and May Welland. Fashion, as always, plays a part in forming opinion across society. Judgements are made based on modes of dress and etiquette, today, just as they were in the 19th century. Jenny Bevan was recently judged and found wanting by some of Hollywood’s elite, for her choice of outfit at the the Oscars ceremony. Rather than conforming to accepted ‘glamorous’ dress code for the ceremony, Ms Bevan chose to homage the Mad Max film for which she so brilliantly designed the costumes. As she said to Hollywood Reporter: ” I really would look ridiculous in a gown. What I was actually wearing at the Oscars was sort of an homage to Mad Max — a kind of biker outfit.”jenny bevanJenny Bevan as part of Marie Claire’s best moments of the 2016 oscars

In Edith Wharton’s New York, the Countess Olenska , on her return to America, is haunted by her infamous appearance at her coming-out ball in black satin, rather than the customary pale colours of innocence. Her return to New York is overshadowed by the scandal of her having left her husband in Europe, ostensibly in search of a divorce; something unheard of in polite New York society. This scandal accompanies her and is emphasised in Wharton’s writing by referencing the bohemian streak to her lifestyle, and commentary on her choice of dress; a shocking ’empire line’ navy dress, worn to the Opera. Her choice of home is also under judgement by the society ladies of New York.

As one gentleman says:” I should really like to take Louisa to see her, if the neighbourhood were not so unpleasant.” Newland is dangerously enchanted by the personal touch of the decor in what Countess Olenska calls her “funny house.” What he saw meanwhile, with the help of the lamp, was the faded shadowy charm of a room unlike any he had ever known…… the vague pervading perfume that was not what one put on handkerchiefs, but rather like the scent of some far-off bazaar, a smell made up of Turkish coffee and ambergris and dried roses.” This bohemian, artistic tendency is Archer’s downfall, and he is drawn into a complicated tug of emotions between accepted genteel etiquette personified by his sweet fiancé, May Welland to whom he sends a daily box of lilies-of-the-valley, and the untouchable temptations of Countess Olenska, to whom he sends yellow roses; ” He had never seen any as sun-golden before, and his first impulse was to send them to May instead of the lilies. But they did not look like her – there was something too rich, too strong in their fiery beauty”.

yellow roses

I leave it to you to discover the outcome to this story, but as you do so, do enjoy the word pictures painted by Edith Wharton of the restrained opulence of Upper class society and the richness of the’alternative’ lifestyle of Madame Olenska. personally I can just see her wearing this wonderful embroidered coat that I saw yesterday in the V&A museum!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hidden Treasures

As you wander through the glass galleries of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum it’s easy to be dazzled by the shelves of finely wrought goblets and wine glasses, so many of which I long to have in my meagre collection of antique wine glasses. But, take a moment to pull open the draws of the unprepossessing cabinets and you will find, as I did, a little haven of hidden treasure. No cataloguing, no labels, no dates; thundreds of tiny fragments of glass seem to be there purely for our visual delight. Astounding feats of minute craftsmanship have been captured and presented to those who take the time to look (and you really do have to get down on your knees for some of them). Most of these pieces of sixteenth to eighteenth century glass measure less than a couple of centimetres in size. Some are tiny fragments of millefiore, creating delicate stippled patterns, others beautiful sections of ancient vessels or intricate gold leafed patterns.

It is the sheer infinitesimal detail in these shards that fascinate me, and I wonder what incredibly steady 16th century hands could have created these treasures?

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