Majestic Ocean Liners the Subject of PEM Exhibit
For roughly one hundred years, from the mid-1800s through the 1950s, luxurious ocean liners lured travelers to exotic locales, themselves floating masterpieces of sophistication and the latest technological innovations. Now through October 9, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts is hosting an exhibition exploring the beautiful nautical heritage of these grande dames: Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style, co-organized with London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition is a logical choice for the PEM; founded in 1799 by sea captains and merchant traders, PEM has been actively collecting art and design related to ocean liners since at least 1870, while the V&A, originally known as the South Kensington Museum, has been actively collecting ship models and technology patents since the 1800s in order to give British commerce a leg up on the competition.
Ocean liners were intricately constructed pieces of culture -- in the appearance of their design, the elegance of their engineering and the division of their social space -- and each with its own distinct personality. Drawing from international institutions and private collections, the exhibition brings together nearly 200 works including paintings, sculpture, models, furniture, lighting, wall panels, textiles, fashion, photographs, posters, and film. Travelers expected sophistication and style, and everything from the advertising posters to flatware was expressly designed to reflect that aspiration, lending each vessel distinct personalities. Like vintage airline posters, ocean liner advertisements are often sought by collectors for their idealized and majestic renderings of farway places.
Photo via Boston Public Library