Quilts at the V&A

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 10, 2010

From the V&A’s website:

Quilts: 1700-2010
The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 20 March — 4 July 2010

Bishops Court quilt, 1690-1700 (V&A no. T.201-1984)

The V&A will present its first ever exhibition of British quilts, with examples dating from 1700 to the present day — a unique opportunity to view the V&A’s unseen quilt collection as well as key national loans. The exhibition will show 65 beautifully crafted quilts, predominantly from the V&A’s own collection but also including a number of important loans and new works by contemporary artists, many of which have been commissioned especially for the show.

Earliest examples include a sumptuous silk and velvet bedcover, with an oral narrative that links it to King Charles II’s visit to an Exeter manor house in the late 17th century. Recent examples will include works by leading artists such as Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin and commissions for the exhibition by a number of contemporary artists including Sue Stockwell and Caren Garfen.

Catalogue by Sue Prichard, ISBN: 978-1851775958 ($60)

The curators have unravelled some of the complex personal narratives and broader historical events documented in the quilts. Examples by both named and unnamed makers will be shown with objects relating to their subject matter and makers including paintings and prints, as well as needlework tools and personal keepsakes. One example is a cot quilt made at Deal castle, displayed for the first time alongside the maker’s diary and portraits of the two grandchildren who slept under it.

There will also be bedcovers that commemorate the lives of prominent figures including Admiral Lord Nelson, Charles II and the Duke of Wellington and important events such as the coronation of Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington’s battle at Vittoria. The exhibition will end with Tracey Emin’s To Meet My Past (2002), a confessional installation which follows the tradition of quilts used as vessels for personal and
collective memories.

The exhibition will be presented chronologically and thematically. The contemporary works will be woven throughout following the themes:

  • The Domestic Landscape
  • Private Thoughts, Public Debates
  • British Eccentricity
  • Making a Living
  • Memory and Memorial

Together the quilts document love, marriage, births, deaths, periods of intense patriotic fervour, regional and national identity and developments in taste and fashion. Contemporary pieces will be embedded within the five sections in an organic way, inviting links between historic examples and the work of artists practicing today.

Alongside the V&A’s quilts will be loans from regional UK museums including Geffrye Museum, Imperial War Museum, Upton House, Rougemont House, Forge Mill Needle Museum, Glasgow Museums, St Fagan’s: National History Museum, Beamish Museum, Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. There will be several loans from private collections.

On loan for the very first time from the National Gallery of Australia will be the Rajah quilt, made in 1841 by women convicts aboard the HMS Rajah as they were being transported to Van Diemen’s Land (present day Tasmania). The women used sewing provisions donated by Elizabeth Fry’s social reform initiative to create what is now the only transportation quilt in a national collection, never before shown outside Australia. The exhibition will celebrate the astonishing vision involved in the design and making of each quilt.

The exhibition will take a contemporary and innovative approach to the design of the space. Many of the quilts will be wall-mounted, but in some instances, bed-sized mounts will be used to showcase the complex and highly creative designs, enabling visitors to appreciate these objects as they were intended to be seen.

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