Tuesday 2 April 2013

Titanic and Beryl Bainbridge exhibitions in Liverpool

I've just spent a ‘Titanic’ couple of days! I’m reading Beryl Bainbridge’s Every Man for Himself, so took the opportunity of visiting an exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum, ‘Titanic & Liverpool. The Untold Story’. Well worth a visit, so try to catch it before it closes on 21 April. I spent a couple of hours reading details about the ship, its crew and passengers, looking at photographs, watching old film clips, looking at articles brought up from the seabed, and reading original letters. The latter were perhaps the most poignant part of the exhibition. There were a couple of letters sent by a crew member to his motherless children just before he set sail. He wasn’t one of the survivors. Neither was a steward whose young daughter, May, had written her very first letter to her beloved ‘Dada’ – the ship sailed before it reached him and it was ‘returned to sender’. Last year’s street theatre spectacular, ‘Liverpool’s Titanic Girl’, which mesmerised the city over a period of three days, was based on this letter.

After refuelling on coffee and cake – there’s a world of choice for eating and drinking at the Albert Dock complex – we strolled across to the Museum of Liverpool. Whatever the visitor’s personal view on the exterior of this building – a marvel of modern architecture, or a blot on the landscape in a previously iconic waterfront scene – its contents cannot be faulted. Impossible to do it justice in a full day and we only had a couple of hours, but I was concentrating on the Skylight Gallery and its exhibition of Beryl Bainbridge’s paintings. No – I didn’t know she was a painter either! The exhibition is entitled ‘Artwork by Dame Beryl Bainbridge’, and is also due to close soon.

Beryl’s paintings are heavily autobiographical, like her novels. She said she wrote to remember her life, to make sense of it, and many of her stories are based on her own experiences, with an added plot – usually a murder. In the paintings, family and friends often appear, even in those based on events and people in history; one depicts her dancing with Napoleon!

Art appreciation is always subjective, so my personal reaction to Dame Bainbridge’s paintings is unimportant here, but two paintings in particular completed my Titanic-themed day: ‘Boarding the Titanic’, and ‘The Titanic and Lifeboat’. The latter is unusual in that the faces of the people in the lifeboat are a collage of images cut from books and magazines. Among these are Mickey Rooney, Dr Johnson, and Hitler as a child – the first two are easy to spot, but I couldn’t find Hitler!

I arrived home with sore feet and a bad back, but the ‘characters’ in Every Man for Himself, Captain Smith; Bruce Ismay; Lord and Lady Duff Gordon; Thomas Andrews; the crew and the high society passengers, were no longer just names from history. The book and the exhibitions all combined to bring them back to life once more.

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