Museum Exhibition Design

Histories and Futures


Panel 13: Designing for collections (II): Fashion, photography, decorative arts

Panel Overview:

Marlene Van-de-Casteele (National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD)/Atelier Chardon Savard, France) Fashioning Beaton portraits:1928-1968 exhibition

Jihane Dyer (Royal Holloway, University of London/Museum of London, UK) Re-fashioning the London Museum: the making of Mary Quant’s London, 1973

Lucie Lachenal (Independent, France) Reconstructing the exhibitions of the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres through the archives (1814-1850)

Individual Papers:

Marlene Van-de-Casteele (National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD)/Atelier Chardon Savard, France) Fashioning Beaton Portraits:1928-1968 exhibition

This presentation was available for the period of the conference only (1-11 September 2020)


This paper focuses on the Beaton Portraits:1928-1968 exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London (November 1968 – March 1969). As the retrospective of the British photographer’s 40 years of career, this exhibition represents a major case in the history of photography – and fashion photography – exhibitions due to its capacity to initiate a discourse on the museum’s role as entertainment media and the use of fashion as a crucial vector in this shift. Not only was this exhibition the first photography exhibition at the NPG and the first to exhibit contemporary portraits, but it also represented a turning point in the accession of photography into the museum’s collections. But, while this exhibition has been often explored and celebrated for these aspects, little has been written on its fashion characters and their role in transforming this case into one of the most popular commercial exhibitions presenting an inter-disciplinary approach.

In this paper, I will reconstruct the exhibition focusing on its scenography, the choices of the exhibited images and objects, as made by Cecil Beaton, the scenographer Richard Buckle and Roy Strong, both director of the NPG (1967-1974) and curator of the exhibition. Using the NPG archives (administrative documentation, exhibition leaflets, exhibition display plans, letters from visitors, press articles), this paper will highlight the heterogeneity and avant-gardeness of the exhibition that entwined both visual and material popular culture. I will analyze the curatorial strategies set up by Buckle and Strong to show how photography and fashion photography refreshed and reformed the image of this classic institution and democratized its audience at a time of attendance crisis. Not only did it promote a new material approach to the presentation of two-dimensional photography (canvas, mural frescos, ex- votos, photo albums, postcards, posters) but it also explored disciplinary exchanges (theater, cinema, design, fashion) and various methodologies in the staging of fashion photography. Like a theater play or a fashion show, it flirted with the commercial world while engaging its audiences via ephemeras, gadgets, perfume, music. Both Buckle and Strong have indeed encouraged the implementation of new artistic practices, positioning the national state museum as a new popular medium, a center for entertainment and emotional experiences. Furthermore, I argue the mise-en-scene of Beaton photography represented an early attempt – inspired by the exhibition on Diaghilev held at Forbes House in London (1954) – to question the nature of the photographic medium, and acts as an ancestor or a prelude to Fashion: An Anthology (1971 V&A), anticipating many narratives that continue to regulate the understanding of fashion in museums in our present time. The Beaton Portraits:1928-1968 exhibition not only worked as a form of marketing tool for the British photographer but it also helped to showcase the contribution of fashion commercial photography to a wider visual culture, and its central role in establishing the relationship between museums and the entertainment commercial system. Dr

Marlène Van de Casteele is a lecturer in history of photography, fashion and mediation at the National School of Decorative Arts (ENSAD) and Atelier Chardon Savard. After having obtained her doctoral degree at the University Lumière Lyon II with the thesis on fashion photography and its value creation, she is currently scientific advisor at the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, working for the preparation of the exhibition on the centenary of Vogue Paris (inauguration in April 2021). Previously, she wrote for art, design and fashion magazines and worked as a research assistant at the Museum of Decorative Arts (MAD Paris) for the Balenciaga Paris (2006), Christian Lacroix, Histoires de mode (2007), Valentino: thèmes et variations (2008) exhibitions.


Jihane Dyer (Royal Holloway, University of London/Museum of London, UK) Re-fashioning the London Museum: the making of Mary Quant’s London, 1973

This presentation was available for the period of the conference only (1-11 September 2020)

Mary Quant’s London (1973) was the final exhibition to be held at the London Museum. Presenting the remarkably recent work of the Swinging London fashion designer against a backdrop of post-war urban change, it was staged on the eve of a pivotal transformation for the sixty-year-old institution housed in Kensington Palace. Unfolding alongside the exhibition, plans were well underway for the Museum’s merger into the new Museum of London which opened at the Barbican in 1976.

Unusually, Mary Quant’s London was principally organised by the Director of the Museum himself, Dr John Hayes. He worked closely, and arguably co-curatorially, with an external exhibition designer. Michael Haynes – an artist, leading visual merchandiser and experienced exhibition-maker – was a fitting match for the project: his contributions to the aesthetic development and characterization of the Swinging London scene were significant; he had created several early window displays for Quant’s Kings Road boutique, Bazaar; and had been responsible for the design of the first major museum exhibition of contemporary fashion held only two years earlier at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Haynes created a vibrant exhibition space for Mary Quant’s London. Dominated by his signature material Perspex, it played with notions of change, modernity and the urban fabric through contrasting domestic dioramas and shop-window-style displays.

Based on research on fashion curation in museums of urban history, this paper follows a case study approach that looks both behind the scenes of Mary Quant’s London’s creation and to its eventual manifestation. It draws together the fragmentary materials that survive in the exhibition’s record with photographs, reviews and video footage in order to examine how and why Mary Quant’s London, through its networks and design, negotiated the display of fashion for an urban history museum in the midst of rethinking its future.

Jihane Dyer is a current PhD student jointly based at the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway University of London and at the Museum of London. Her Techne AHRC-supported research explores the intersections between fashion, exhibition-making and urban geography in museums of cities.


Lucie Lachenal (Independent) Reconstructing the exhibitions of the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres through the archives (1814-1850)

In 1814, Alexandre Brongniart, the director of the Royal Porcelain Manufactory of Sèvres, asked the Count of Blacas for permission to re-establish a tradition of the Ancien Régime: exhibitions and sales of Sèvres porcelain in the King’s apartments on New Year’s Day. Initially conceived as a private event, the presentation of porcelains to the King became a public exhibition of Sèvres porcelains at the Louvre in 1814, then from 1817 an exhibition of all the royal manufacturies (the Gobelins, Beauvais and the Savonnerie). Thanks to the rich archives kept at the Sèvres manufactory, it is possible to reconstruct these exhibitions that took place during the Restoration and the July Monarchy through different types of document: plans, correspondence, booklets, lists of exhibits, invoices, etc. These documents as well as the critical reviews published in the press make it possible to understand how the exhibitions were designed and for what purposes. For example, we can gain access to how A. Brongniart sought to highlight the pieces (placement, colored background, search for the right light, devices such as rotating pedestals, etc.), but also the place given to the spectators (distance to the works, frontal or complete view of the vases, etc.). We will also emphasize the central role of A. Brongniart in the organization of these exhibitions (negotiation for exhibition halls, imagined devices for the exhibition of stained-glass windows, edition of catalogs, etc.).

Reconstituer les expositions de la manufacture royale de Sèvres par les archives (1814-1850)

En 1814, Alexandre Brongniart le directeur de la manufacture royale de porcelaine de Sèvres demande au comte de Blacas l’autorisation de rétablir une tradition d’Ancien Régime : les expositions- ventes de porcelaines de Sèvres dans les appartements du Roi à l’époque du jour de l’an. Initialement imaginée comme un événement privé, la présentation des porcelaines au Roi devient à partir de 1814 une exposition publique des porcelaines de Sèvres au Louvre, puis à partir de 1817 une exposition de toutes les manufactures royales (les Gobelins, Beauvais et la Savonnerie). Grâce aux riches archives conservées à la manufacture de Sèvres, il est possible de reconstituer ces expositions qui se déroulèrent pendant la Restauration et la monarchie de Juillet à travers différents types de document : plans, correspondances, livrets, listes d’objets exposés, factures. Ces documents ainsi que les comptes rendus critiques publiés dans la presse permettent de comprendre comment les expositions ont été conçues et dans quels buts. Par exemple comment A. Brongniart a cherché à mettre en valeur les pièces (placement, fond coloré, recherche de la bonne lumière, dispositifs comme des piédestaux tournants, etc.), mais aussi la place accordée aux spectateurs (distance aux œuvres, vue frontale ou complète des vases, etc.). On soulignera également le rôle central d’A. Brongniart dans l’organisation de ces expositions (négociation pour les salles d’exposition, dispositifs imaginés pour l’exposition des vitraux, édition des catalogues, etc.).

Dr Lucie Lachenal gained her Ph. D. in art history in 2017. Her research focuses on art criticism and exhibitions of industrial arts in the 19th century and she did post-doctoral research at the Sèvres manufactory (2019) on the first exhibitions of art objects in France (1798-1850).

Dr Lucie Lachenal: Docteure en histoire de l’art (2017), mes recherches portent sur la critique d’art et sur les expositions des arts industriels au XIXe siècle. J’ai réalisé des recherches post-doctorales à la manufacture de Sèvres (2019) sur les premières expositions d’objets d’art en France (1798-1850).




Thread: Theatricality of display

Veronica Isaac Topic starter   

Firstly, thank you all for your fascinating papers.

As a fashion historian I was particularly interested in Marlane and Jihane’s papers and felt it was important that you both raised awareness of the fact both exhibitions in a sense ‘bookended’ Beaton’s 1971 Fashion Anthology at the V&A (to which far greater attention has previously been paid).

I was especially struck by the theatricality of both the Beaton exhibition at the NPG and the Quant exhibition in 1973 and would be very interested to know whether you felt the manner in which these two exhibitions were presented reflected a wider trend occurring within curatorship at the time? Alternatively, do you feel that the theatricality of the exhibitions with their ‘stage sets’ – and – in the case of the Beaton exhibition – the sound effects and evocative scents – expressed a sense among ‘curators’ that fashion required a different mode of presentation and would attract a different ‘audience’?  

Many thanks,



Dear Veronica,

Thank you for your interest and kind comments. To respond to your first question, I wouldn’t dare to identify this as a wider trend occurring within curatorship. For example, The Art of Fashionexhibition, held at the Costume Institute (MET New York) in 1967-68, showed a very different approach in terms of curatorial display, much less theatrical/amateurial and more classical but indeed there is a lot of other exhibitions to look at.

As I tried to explain in my presentation, i think these stage-sets, sound effect and scents were not only used for fashion exhibitions but for other types of exhibition like the theater exhibitions (I mentioned the Diaghilev and the Shakespeare ones but there were many more and it would be very interesting to dig more into this topic!), that is why i wouldn’t say that only fashion required a different mode of presentation… but maybe Jihane has another point of view on the matter?

Veronica Isaac Topic starter   

@mvdc Thanks for this response. Very helpful to know. I was interested to learn about the connections between the Beaton and other theatre exhibitions – particularly the involvement of Richard Buckle who played a major part in acquiring the Diaghilev costumes now held by the Theatre & Performance Department at the V&A Museum. As you say – lots more to investigate!

Jihane Dyer   

Hi Veronica. Thanks so much for watching and for your comments. And thank you too for your wonderful paper, Marlène. Like Veronica I was also struck by the brilliant coincidence of our presentations – you’ve given me much to think about in terms of positioning the Quant show within a slightly longer trajectory of fashion exhibitions and their networks in London.

I’m not sure I can speak to a wider curatorial trend at the time. But it’s worth seeing these exhibitions as part of a much longer history of theatrical techniques being used in the display of dress/fashion (which Marlène has pointed to). Julia Petrov has a great chapter on this in Fashion, History, Museums (2019) where she discusses the influence of tableaux vivants as well as mentioning the theatre design backgrounds of several early dress curators.

But in terms of the curators requiring more specialised, spectacular approaches to fashion… If I just speak to the Quant and 1971 Beaton shows: In dealing with contemporary fashion I think the links/tensions (and perhaps competition) with the commercial side of fashion became really important. So they seemed to be more open to bringing the industry into the museum (through adjunct curators and designers for example) and there seems to be a keener sense of the increasingly spectacular and animated ways in which the public were viewing and experiencing fashion at the time, i.e. through photography, advertising, new modes of commercial display, fashion shows etc.

So while there was already a history of theatricality in dress display, it seems as though contemporary fashion consumption offered up new patterns of experience that these museums were tapping into through design. If that makes sense!

There are probably many more answers to your question though, so it’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about further – thank you!


Thanks again Veronica and thank you so much Jihane for your enlightening presentation (indeed during my PhD I did a bit of research on the Mary Quant exhibition but couldn’t have access to all the amazing materials you showed!) and explanation.

To come back to the question of the relationship between fashion industry and the industry, I guess we must credit again Diana Vreeland at the MET and Beaton at the NPG/V&A but we shall not forget that this rather uninhibited relationship today has created controversies during the 70s and 80. Indeed this opening was denounced by the museums curators themselves (the keeper of the collection who did not really appreciate the vision of some special consultant or external curator) and by art critics if we refer to the YSL exhibition (1983-1984) which was fiercely criticized by Robert Storr from the Art in America journal : “Fusing the ying and yang of vanity and cupidity, the YSL show was the equivalent of turning gallery space over to General Motors for a display of Cadillacs.” (February 1987) and not to forget that after this exhibition and the bad reviews it received, the Costume Institute has not renewed this experience before 2005 with the Chanel exhibition. But you probably know all this story!! just wanted to recall that these pioneer exhibitions (Beaton, Quant, YSL) paved the way in that sense and raised interesting questions on the role of museums and their relationship with the industry, but it took a long time for them to legitimate this relationship. I hope I am clear enough (sorry for my english!)

Anyway, if you want to push further this conversation, here is my email:

All the Best!



Jihane Dyer   

Apologies for the delayed response! But you’re absolutely right, Marlène. The openness to industry didn’t extend to everyone (and funnily enough the commercial risks of MQL even worried the UK government at the time). So these really were experiments that didn’t fully take hold again until much later. But, as they still do now, I think those relationships certainly opened up new opportunities for design and alternative frameworks for interpretation to play with, if only for a short time. 

Yes, I’d love to chat more! I’m at


Thread: Re-fashioning the London Museum: the making of Mary Quant’s London, 1973

Annebella Pollen Topic starter   
Dear Jihane 

What an excellent presentation! I learned a lot about the history of MoL that I didn’t know even though it has a collection that I’ve used a lot.
I was struck by the revivalism and nostalgia of the final room. I wondered if you might find it useful to position it in relation to the 1970s retro styles that are pithily encapsulated in Peter York’s BBC4 playful programme, The 1970s Edwardian Revival (check Box of Broadcasts). See also Raphael Samuel’s retrochic chapter in Theatres of Memory. 
Well done on a great presentation, again,


Jihane Dyer   

Dear Bella, 

Thanks so much for your kind comments (and apologies for the delayed response!). 

You’re right – it really does seem to shift position after the window-type displays. I’ve been trying to find something that places the Edwardian revival in context so I can’t thank you enough for your suggestions! Also love digging around BoB…

Best wishes, 



Thread: Sèvres archives

Claire Wintle Topic starter   

Dear Lucie, thank you for this presentation. I especially enjoyed your fabulous slides. How amazing to have this archival material. I was especially struck by the plans of the exhibitions that you showed towards the end of the presentation. Can you say a little bit more about their purpose? Did Brongniart produce them himself, for his own reference (to work out positioning?) or were these instructions to his assistants? Did he share them beyond the exhibition team at all, I wonder? Can you say a little more about the annotations? What function did they hold? It really put me in mind of Martha Fleming’s paper on Panel 2. Thanks again, Claire Wintle

Lucie Lachenal   

Dear Claire,

Thank you very much for your message and questions.

You’re right, it’s really great to have such documents to understand these exhibitions. It was not Brongniart who drew the plans but most certainly he who designed the layout of the rooms. As you have understood, he had a central role, but he worked for these exhibitions with employees of the Sèvres manufactory who were in charge of arranging the porcelain in the Louvre, and also with outside craftsmen, mainly upholsterers and carpenters. Most plans were made with great care (there is a scale at the bottom). Sometimes they are in colour, and the drawn objects are recognisable. Most of the annotations give the names of the porcelain works. I couldn’t show everything, but sometimes the letters on the plans refer to a legend in which the names of the pieces are detailed. However, the porcelain works were occasionally moved around during the exhibition, so the plans do not necessarily show the exhibition as it really was.

I think that the plans had two goals: on the one hand, to allow the employees of Sèvres (we know who participated in the realisation of these exhibitions and how much time they devoted to them) to arrange the porcelain according to the wishes of Brongniart, and on the other hand, to keep a precise record of these exhibitions in the archives of the manufactory. Brongniart was also accountable to his supervisory administration, the Maison du Roi. It is possible, although I found no evidence of it, that Brongniart wanted to present the plan to his superiors in the central administration or to the architect of the Louvre, Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, before the opening of the exhibition. Before the exhibition opened, Brongniart gave a list of the porcelain works he intended to exhibit to the administration. He also had to justify all of the expenses made by the manufactory. This is one of the reasons why many documents still remain. 

Indeed, some of the problems that Martha Fleming describes as to the archives of 20th century designers are also valid for the archives of the 19th century. And of course documents often raise more questions than they answer!

Lucie Lachenal


Thread: Fashioning Beaton Portraits:1928-1968 exhibition

Annebella Pollen Topic starter   

Dear Marlene,

I enjoyed your presentation very much, especially it’s combination of museology, exhibition design history, fashion and photography (so many of my favourite things). I particularly relished the critical letters about the shortcomings of the display strategies, which seemed to veer from the theatrical and immersive to the deliberately antagonistic and distracting (almost literally smoke and mirrors). You gave a convincing reading of the exhibition’s achievements in the period but to my contemporary eyes it looks amateurish. What do you think were its shortcomings? What did Buckle do afterwards? What curatorial strategies did he continue to deploy?



Thank you so much for your interest in my presentation and your comment very relevant. In a way it can indeed appear today as an amateurish exhibition – as it appeared at the time to some visitors and a few journalists. Here, I’d like to refer again to the critics highlighted by journalist Mary Holland in The Observer (October 20th 1968) relating to the Shakespear exhibition : « Possibly, it was just that is was reviewed by art critics who found it all a bit like a fairground, aimed at public enjoyment rather than attitudes to art. » Also I haven’t shown the critics from The New York Times’ art critic, Hilton Kramer, when he reviewed the Beaton Portraits exhibition touring in the US (« 600 Faces by Beaton :1928-1969 » installed at the Museum of the City of New York): “the exhibition seems almost designed to encourage our sense of its superficialities, to underscore the photographer’s attachment to the vicissitudes of fashion, celebrity, and the vagaries of publicity. Certainly no photographer who cared deeply about the aesthetic integrity of his medium would have permitted the inclusion of so many indifferent prints or sanctioned an installation — complete with campy musical sound tracks— that invites the blurred vision of nostalgia to take such overwhelming precedence over the appreciation of individual images.” (Hilton Kramer, « Comedies of Manners », The New York Times, May 11th 1969)

This fairground atmosphere and gadgets supplements (which seemed to be the hallmark of Richard Buckle) have contributed to hide the seriousness of the exhibition making act in itself, as if the exhibition aimed at making a mockery of the educative and cultural nature of such an enterprise. That is why I would have liked to discover interviews of Richard Buckle talking about his practice in other journals and magazines than Vogue or the Observer but there were a few collected in the NPG archives. It was also a way of diverting attention from the fact that most of the photographs on display were fashion photographs, a discipline hitherto considered too commercial or mercantile to enter a museum, but at the same time we can regret that this scenography only conveyed clichés on the glamorous, frivolous and whimsical aspect of fashion. The criticism that I would also formulate against the bias of Roy Strong is not to have assumed his choice to exhibit a fashion photographer either in the foreword of the exhibition leaflet or in the recorded portraits, to address not only the question of the recognition of photography in classical museums but also that of fashion and its potential in terms of attracting a new audience.

Buckle was more active during the decade 1954 to 1964. In 1967 he planned a project to found a museum of performing arts. In his obituary for the Guardian, Roy Strong explained that “The tortuous story of this project meandered on until 1973, when it merged with the old British Theatre Museum under the aegis of the Victoria & Albert Museum to become eventually the present Theatre Museum in Covent Garden”. By the end of the 60s, his mental and physical health was declining, he had a major mental breakdown in 1971, a second in 1976 and had to leave London to settle in Wiltshire. He then produced his biographies of Nijinsky (1971) and Diaghilev (1979). He also went on to write one of Balanchine (1988) but kind of felt into oblivion.

Hope I answered to your questions! Thanks again,


Annebella Pollen Topic starter   

Marvellous Marlene! Thanks for such a full reply. I’m now fascinated by Buckle who I had only come across in relation to ballet history previously… Great to read those extra quotes too. Thanks again, Bella

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