I went along to the new Vanity Fair exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery this morning. On show are numerous “celebrity” photographic portraits as featured in the magazine, as well as samples of the magazine from all eras.
A quick history lesson on the mag to help add some context. The magazine first launched in 1913 under the title Dress and Vanity Fair. After a brief spell, Condé Nast relaunched in 1914 using the sole title of Vanity Fair and the magazine ran until 1936. At this point publication ceased for almost 50 years, until its most relaunch in 1983.
I saw a brief snippet about the exhibition on the news the other night, which mainly focused on the current era. So, I knew to expect the “More Demi Moore” image, portraits of Princess Diana and other modern day beautiful people. There was also a good showing of Australian talent from recent times, mainly with acting backgrounds, including Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman. Magazine spreads featuring other supposed lesser lights from Australia, but no less beautiful (I’m looking at you Naomi Watts), are on show inside display cabinets.
So, I knew to expect the modern day celebs, but I didn’t expect to see portraits of George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells, a young Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Bette Davis, Josephine Baker, Cary Grant, Jesse Owens and many other giants of the literary, Hollywood and entertainment worlds. For me, seeing images of such icons captured in their prime was worth the ticket price alone. Also worth noting was the simple, classic layout and design of the 1930s magazine spreads on show.
I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and reckon the $10 entry fee is money well spent. I certainly got more out of this exhibition than I did from the recent Degas show down the road earlier this year.
The only sour note was waiting 30 minutes at the café for two cups of tea. Not a terribly difficult ask, I thought, but it proved to be quite the chore. Yes, the cafe was busy, but having worked in hospitality in the past I could see there were enough staff on the floor to establish a wait of that length for such a simple order was inexcusable.
Back to the exhibition, it is on show until the end of August. If this morning’s crowd was anything to go by, this will be a very popular gig for the National Portrait Gallery.