Friday, November 28, 2008

The V&A: Life in Victorian England

The Victorian Era was an interesting one. It never fails to surprise me. Let me introduce you to a key figure in this era . . .
Queen Victoria herself! This is a bust of the young, still-pretty queen who gave the era its name. Under her rule and British Empire continued to expand, and with this expansion came a new way of life in England.
Exhibitions became a popular way to display the wealth and power of the Empire. The Crystal Palace (a model is shown above) was built especially for the "Great Exhibition" in Hyde Park. And yes, the building incorporated a full-grown tree within its glass walls. These exhibitions were the perfect excuse to show the new, grand, showy artwork that was being created during this period.
Aside from the ridiculously showy pieces of art, the Victorians also looked to other cultures for inspiration. This necklace is an example of the Victorians looking back to the classical world for inspiration.
However, Japanese art was also a big influence on the art of the era. This screen and magazine rack are influenced by similar Japanese models of the time. At the same time symbols began to change. Peacock feathers, which at one time symbolized bad luck, became the "cool thing" to do.
One of my favorite areas of the exhibit was the clothing section. The Victorian era was one of the expanding wardrobe.

To be a "proper" gentleman you needed a large closet. The proper man might change his clothes 6 or 7 times a day, depending on his activities. Clothing was not to be mixed.

For women, it was the wedding dress. Queen Victoria made the white wedding dress popular when she married Prince Albert in a dress very similar to the one shown above. Luckily, for us girls (maybe not so much for our fathers) the tradition of the beautiful, white wedding dress has remained to this day!
From this exhibit I learned that Victorian life was that of wealth and show. It was very important to keep up appearances, especially with so many cultures streaming into England at the time. The fact that the "sun never set upon the British Empire" is crucial to understanding the great change that came about in this era.

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