The posters say it all… the colour, the elegance, the grandiose ocean liners, the lure of foreign shores. Cunard is a way of life, whether you’ve lived it or not. Hollywood glamour meets English country house style, a rarefied air of film stars, butlers and neat uniforms. It was in 1840 that Samuel Cunard ran the first transatlantic service and even now Cunard is sailing into the future.
The exhibition Travel in Style – subtitled Iconic Cunard Advertising in the 1920s and 1930s – tells the story of the magnificent transatlantic crossings.
Extravagant Art Deco art sits alongside several adverts, including a giant illustration showing how the iconic Queen Mary was almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall.
Another extols the joys of “Tourist Class”, actually third class but looking like first-class anywhere else; a 1923 events programme lists the egg and spoon race (different races for single and married ladies) and a men’s pillow fight.
Memorabilia includes the earliest souvenirs… jigsaws and model boats.
The exhibition sits amid the tiles and polished wood of the Victoria Gallery & Museum at Liverpool University, which is home to the company archive. Most of the company’s records since 1878 – they’d stretch 1,300ft if laid end to end – are in the bunker-like archive, rows of shelves stacked with boxes and ledgers.
If you know what you want you can make a free appointment to view it.
Why not try the 1840 passenger manifest with Charles Dickens’s floridly hand-written name.
Archivist Siân Wilks, overseeing the epic collection, says: “It provides rich insight not only into the company but also the social history of thousands of people whose lives Cunard impacted.” Passengers include starlets such as our own Liz Taylor plus Hollywood names – Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland – and everyone from Noel Coward to Walt Disney.
Liverpool is Cunard’s spiritual home, based in its ornate Merseyside building – one of the iconic Three Graces – until 1919 when it moved to Southampton to entice well-off southerners.
Cunard joined forces with the White Star Line in 1934, two years before Queen Mary arrived.
And yet the exhibition is as much a glimpse of tomorrow, interior designers taking Art Deco inspiration for Queen Anne, entering service next year.
It’s the first ship for London’s feted David Collins Studio, creators of both Harrods opulent Chocolate Hall and the soon-arriving Suites by David Beckham at the Londoner hotel in Macao on China’s southern coast.
Cunard’s history is extraordinary but its future is too…
- The free exhibition runs until December 31; cunard.com