Noël Coward takes centre-stage as London emerges from lockdown
Noël Coward: Art & Style, which celebrates the visual impact of Noël Coward’s life and work, opens on 14 June at Guildhall Art Gallery.
The free exhibition, originally scheduled to open in summer 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of Coward’s West End debut as a playwright, brings a wealth of dazzling visuals and effervescent wit to London as the capital emerges from lockdown.
No stranger to challenging events and lifting the nation’s spirits, Coward’s sixty-year career encompassed two World Wars and the Great Depression and once again, he offers light, laughter, and beauty in dark times.
This fresh and vibrant look at one of the UK’s most popular playwrights and songwriters also reveals new facets to the man and his work that speak to our own time - from his championing of the work of women and black artists to the role that his identity as a gay man played in the formation of his unique stage persona.
The final section of Noël Coward: Art & Style celebrates his continuing impact upon contemporary design and fashion.
The exhibition, which will run until 23 December, brings together rarely-seen original artwork and costumes, photographs, documents, three-dimensional objects, audio and video to tell the story, all in a theatrically immersive environment true to Coward’s spirit. View the trailer here - https://tinyurl.com/2bpj4msw
- A meticulous new reconstruction of the iconic white satin dress that Molyneux designed in 1930 for Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives, commissioned especially for this exhibition.
- A never-before-exhibited gold lamé theatre cape by Lucile (Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon) from 1920.
- Coward’s sheet music, including an original page of his handwritten lyrics for Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and rare photos from productions, portraits, and fashion shoots
- Two of Oliver Messel’s original masks for the ground-breaking staging of Coward’s ‘Dance, Little Lady’ in the 1928 revue, This Year of Grace, on loan from the V&A Theatre Collection. These are pivotal items in the exhibition by one of England’s pre-eminent designers, and reflective of the sometimes dark, surreal stagings of Coward’s work in the revues of the 1920s.
- Costumes and wardrobe items worn by Coward, including his chocolate brown evening suit by Douglas Hayward for the film Boom! and two of his signature silk dressing gowns.
- Original décor items from Coward’s various homes, ranging from England to Jamaica to Switzerland, including the iconic ‘Hamlet’ chair and the Wings of Time, and several of his own paintings.
- A media gallery including rare stage production footage and home movies, and a stereoscopic viewer of Coward’s personal photos from the 1950s, in rich colour and 3D.
In realising his work, Coward joined forces with some of the finest couturiers and theatrical designers of his time, from Edward Molyneux, Norman Hartnell, Victor Stiebel, and Mainbocher to Cecil Beaton, Oliver Messel, Doris Zinkeisen, Irene Sharaff, Oliver Smith and long-time collaborator Gladys Calthrop. The exhibition also celebrates the achievements of this astonishing creative circle with original vintage dresses, paintings, and set and costume design sketches.
These designers and their visions also helped shape Coward’s carefully crafted off-stage image as a style icon, a model of elegance and charm that extended from his personal wardrobe to his passion for painting, and the chic decoration of his various homes.
This major exhibition vividly demonstrates the pivotal role that art and style played in Coward’s life on- and off-stage, the enormous impact that he had upon the fashion and culture of his time, and the ways in which his visual legacy and influence continue to resonate to this day.
The exhibition is curated by Brad Rosenstein, whose acclaimed exhibition, Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward, was seen in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.
The City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery will host a series of live and online talks, workshops, and outreach education activities, designed to engage new audiences and inspire future generations.
Tickets for Noël Coward: Art & Style are free, but must be booked in advance - and for specific visitor time slots - at www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/noelcoward
COVID-19 safety measures have been introduced at Guildhall Art Gallery to ensure the well-being of visitors and staff, including daily deep cleaning, hand sanitiser stations, and one-way routes with two-metre social distancing markers. Last year, the gallery received the ‘We’re Good to Go’ industry standard and consumer mark, led by Visit Britain / Visit England.
Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, Wendy Hyde, said:
“‘Noël Coward: Art & Style’ will be a must-see for anyone interested in visual art, costume and stage design, and the history of British theatre, as well as admirers of Coward’s plays, songs and films.”
“My colleagues and I are looking forward to seeing how this show throws a spotlight on one of the most popular and stylish performers of his age.”
Curator, Noël Coward: Art & Style, Brad Rosenstein, said:
“Coward is especially celebrated for his verbal wit, but the exhibition will remind us that his original productions were also visual feasts for their audiences, a vital element of his theatrical world shaped by the extraordinary designers with whom he worked, and his own brilliance as a director.
“These productions had an international influence on fashion and were reflected in Coward’s personal style - from his wardrobe to home décor - and just like his plays and songs, they still seem fresh, contemporary, and surprising today.”
Principal Curator of the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery, Elizabeth Scott, said:
“Immaculately dressed, charming, erudite, and devastatingly witty, Noël Coward was an icon of his time, and the exhibition will feature some remarkable pieces of art, costume, and memorabilia to pay tribute to his enduring style and legacy.
“Were he alive today, we feel sure that Coward would be expecting this ground-breaking exhibition to generate the type of ‘unqualified praise’ that he once memorably spoke of!”
The City of London Corporation, which owns and manages Guildhall Art Gallery, is the fourth largest funder of heritage and cultural activities in the UK and invests over £130m every year.
In partnership with the Barbican, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Symphony Orchestra, and Museum of London, the City Corporation is leading the development of Culture Mile between Farringdon and Moorgate, a multi-million-pound initiative to create a new cultural and creative destination for London.
Notes for Editors:
Curator of Noël Coward: Art & Style, Brad Rosenstein, and Project Manager of Noël Coward: Art & Style and Guildhall Art Gallery curator, and Katty Pearce, are available for media interviews.
Press Preview - Thursday 10 June from 10.30am
For media enquiries, exhibition images, photo opportunities, and interview requests:
Andrew Buckingham, Media Officer (Arts & Culture), City of London Corporation
T: +44 (0) 20 7332 1452 / M: +44 (0) 7795 333060 /
Anthony McNeill, Press Representative, Noël Coward: Art & Style
M: +44 (0) 7967 480844 / T: +44 (0) 20 7253 6226 /
About Guildhall Art Gallery:
The historic Guildhall Art Gallery originally opened in 1886 and is home to City of London’s magnificent art collection. Particularly rich in Victorian art and ranging from Pre-Raphaelites to depictions London’s colourful past, the Gallery’s basement houses the remains of London’s Roman Amphitheatre, dating from AD70. The Gallery also owns one of the largest oil paintings in Britain, John Singleton Copley’s Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar (1783 – 1791), which is on permanent display.
About the City of London Corporation:
Guild The City of London Corporation is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK. www.cityoflondon.gov.uk
Noël Coward: Art & Style exhibition dates: 14 June 2021 – 23 December 2021
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guildhall Art Gallery opening hours:
Monday – Sunday, 10:30am – 4.00pm
Noël Coward accounts:
Guildhall Art Gallery accounts:
Sir Noël Coward (1899 – 1973) the internationally acclaimed English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer was known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".
Brad Rosenstein is a renowned curator and leading authority on the life and work of Noël Coward. He curated the acclaimed 2012 exhibition, Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward, held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Photo credits: Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in Tonight at 8:30 (1936) and Private Lives (1930) Photos by Vandamm Studio. Courtesy of Vandamm Studio Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.