04 April 2012

Old Fashioned Travelers Beware

Reported this day in 1936:


Chromium, Glass and Modernist Paintings.



The completion of the Queen Mary, depressing enough to thousands of Clydebank workers, whose wages are ended with the event, must have caused a great deal of excitement in Britain and America among those who can regard as probable an early chance of travelling on her. It seems a pity that vessels such as the Normandie and the Queen Mary must be confined to so short a run as the North Atlantic crossing; between Southampton and New York one would hardly have time to explore the leviathan and taste with easy leisure all its pleasures; at least half the voyage would be over before one felt at home.

Indeed, to judge by the illustrations which have been published in the newspapers, to travel by the Queen Mary must be an exciting rather than a soothing experience--the dining-room to seat 800 people, the ballroom, the restaurants and "verandah grill," the night club, the marble columns, moulded ceilings, golden lights, panelled corridors and halls and a great arcade of shops--very expensive ones, no doubt--lined with plateglass and chromium steel with a fountain playing in the centre. It is magnificent; one might travel across the ocean on her without catching sight of the sea.

All this is in accord with the exacting demands of the seasoned and blase regular Atlantic trippers who when the popular novelty has worn off will form the greater number of her passengers; but nothing that sails the seas can be altogether dominated by ostentation and not all the decorations on the Queen Mary are suggestive of the setting of a Cochran revue. Artists of repute, such as Philip Connard, R.A., and McDonald Gill, for instance, have executed wall decorations for the main restaurant. As the restaurant covers nearly half an acre the murals have to be unusually large to be effective, and Mr. Gill's painting representing the North Atlantic in the form of a map is no less than 30 feet long. Even better is a series of 14 carved pine wood panels by Bainbridge Copnall, illustrating shipbuilding through the ages, and in the shopping centre is a 50-feet frieze by Maurice Lambert. John Skeaping, Duncan Grant and Dame Laura Knight are other prominent artists who have contributed to make the vessel something of a floating gallery of contemporary British art.

The old-fashioned traveller is not likely to find the Queen Mary a restful boat:  her embellishments in the ultra-modernist mood are stimulating and interesting enough to see once or twice, but not to live with for long, and in the face of an avalanche of chromium, marble and glass one is inclined to think a little more kindly of the essential placidities of the Victorian era and a little less contemptuously of its antimacassars and footstools. Every age has its gauds. Plates of wax fruit under glass covers were ugly enough things on the dining room mantelpiece, but then one could usually move about without being forced at every turn to view oneself in giant, bright chromium-bordered mirrors.

Will the contemporary addiction to chromium and glass persist for long? It is all the vogue on the Continent and in America; British people are adopting it though not so enthusiastically since native fondness for old oak and mahogany is deep-rooted and the British are wisely conservative where their comfort is concerned. The glass and chromium mixture is certainly clean and light, and it may be comfortable:  but it is cold and characterless, and an appearance of almost medical asepsis may not give a particularly gay or companionable atmosphere to a room.

But, getting back to Mary a la Mode, her designers are already at work upon the plans of a sister ship which may be even larger and faster and may be adorned with even more plate glass and chromium and coloured lights and gigantic wall pictures. Only from the outside will she look much like what ancient mariners and old-fashioned passengers regard as a ship. Let us hope that somewhere on these brave new liners the more simple-minded travellers will be able to get an occasional sniff of those delightful ship-board smells of pain and tar and beeswax and resin and the rest of them--just to let them know that they really are at sea.

Source: The West Australian (Perth)

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