The City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery is opening back up to the public, kicking things off with the latest exhibition, Noël Coward: Art & Style, running from 14 June.
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.
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.
Feature Image by Vandamm Studio ©Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Gertrude Lawrence and Noël Coward in Private Lives, 1931, Times Square Theatre, New York