A mixed review of The Victoria & Albert Museums’ Pearl Exhibition

A necklace with pearls in bunches of grapes. Stunning piece I would wear. Image  ot my own

A necklace with pearls in bunches of grapes. Stunning piece I would wear. Image ot my own

Another Art fund Card outing. I wasn’t really sure what to expect of this exhibition I had done no back ground research as to what it about, I just happened to be in that part of town and I went to see what was new at one of my favourite museums in London.

A pearl that belonged to Queen Mary Tudor AKA Bloody Mary Image not mine

A pearl that belonged to Queen Mary Tudor AKA Bloody Mary Image not mine

Upon entering the exhibition space you are greeted by a very charming picture of an unknown lady from the 16th century bedecked with Pearls. The exhibition started so well but then things changed. Next you went through to the right where you see different varieties of shellfish that make pearls and the many different size shapes and colours of pearl that there are. This is when it all became very frustrating. Because there was no audio guide for the exhibition, people were spending far too long reading the blurb, the wait to see each artefact was very frustrating especially as it wasn’t busy as it was an early afternoon, midweek. An Audio guide would mean that people could hear the blurb and see the object without hogging the display cases. The audio guides at the British Museum also have the key objects on the guide so that you can see fine detail up close. Due to the subject of the exhibition 90% of the visitors at the exhibition were mature ladies all struggling to read the blurbs thus making the wait even longer. I dread to think what it would be like on a busy weekend!

I also found that visitor etiquette was somewhat forgotten most of us lined

20s inspired piece again something I would wear today Image not mine

20s inspired piece again something I would wear today Image not mine

up and waited to see each exhibit but there were people who would just barge in and push this irritated me. The lay out of the exhibition wasn’t, for me, very smooth and there was a lack of places to stop and sit. They also had a habit of putting video exhibits around, normally at then entrance of a new section. This meant that you could not enter the next part easily as people were milling around for 3 and half minutes watching something. I do think that these exhibits are important in modern exhibitions however in this shoow there were just too many of them. Many of the display cases in part of the exhibition were very small so only one or 2 people could see each object or set of objects at one time. Bigger display cases would have helped this greatly. All I all, as visitor to the attraction the experience was not very good. I will also be frank I am glad that I didn’t pay full price due to my Art Fund Card I think I would have felt robbed if I had paid full price.

The Exhibits though were well worth the waiting and the frustrating experience. I found the tiny seed pearls so very moving and the skill required to get a threat through them is hard to comprehend. The equipment for Pearl Merchants and dealers looked like something out of Sinbad the sailor and also reminded me of Shylock from a merchant of Venice. The main body of the exhibition was the small cases containing jewellery many of them belong to royalty and the rich and famous. I should note that the V&A owe Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, great thanks for the many items that she lent the exhibition.

King George III's buttons

King George III’s buttons Image not Mine

Several Items that really caught my eye, a necklace Mary Queen of Scots gave Thomas Howard 4th Duke of Norfolk, 3 buttons that belonged to George III, Pearl necklace that belonged to Hollywood royalty Marilyn Monroe, the pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution, a memorial pendant of Prince Albert on lone from the British Museum, the pearl of Asia and Mary Tudor Pearl, a dress worn by the queen in 1959 gold silk embroidered with pearls and stones, the dress and the case of royal Tiaras next to it looked like they were from a Disney film.

My favourite modern piece on show Image not mine

My favourite modern piece on show Image not mine

A small section had Art Nouvaux and art deco jewellery mostly Parisian and it was stunning. There was a tiara with mother of pearl leaves and it would look stunning on a modern bride as well as some classic Egyptian styled twenties flapper jewellery not unlike what we will probably see this series of Downton Abbey!

Frozen the ad campaign piece for the show pretty but not my taste Image not mine

Frozen the ad campaign piece for the show pretty but not my taste Image not mine

The last section of the exhibition had some amazing modern pieces using pearls a pearl scarf, and then the modern coloured creations from Japan and a German necklace called Frozen that did look like branches with frozen conkers.

All in all the exhibits were stunning however the poor lay out and lack of audio guide let down the experience. Of all the exhibitions I have seen this year this has been the most frustrating really let its self down and I am most disappointed as the V&A normally get it so right. Theses are my own views expressed here.

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