Ocean Liners: Speed and Style review: A new V&A exhibition is showcasing the glamour days of cruise liner lifestyle

 
Steve Hogarty
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Ocean Liners: Speed and Style
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For about a hundred years ocean liners were the primary mode of intercontinental travel. First they ferried immigrants across the Atlantic in their huddled masses, then became vital troop transport during the First World War, before finally evolving into the luxurious art deco hotels on waves we recognise from our favourite period nautical dramas on Netflix.

When air travel took off (literally) it blew ocean liners out of the water (almost literally), consigning the likes of the SS Normandie and the original Queen Elizabeth to the history books.

Today’s cruise ships are but an echo of their grand ancestors. But these vessels were more than just a means of crossing the ocean. Over the course of a century they came to encapsulate the very height of class and style.

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style celebrates these floating time capsules, showcasing this bygone seafaring lifestyle through an eclectic collection of furniture, jewellery, paintings and textiles. Huge scale models of ships, taken from the old ticket offices of Cunard and other cruise lines, are artworks in their own right. There’s a Cartier tiara recovered from the sunken Lusitania. And there’s a bolted-down chair with a flippable seat, one side upholstered and the other caned for a more comfortable ride depending on the climate.

It’s an incisive exhibition of the often ostentatious and overwrought glamour of the intercontinental cruise, and about as far from drinking weak tea from a styrofoam cup on a Stena ferry as it gets.

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