The life of one of Britain’s most celebrated actresses, Vivien Leigh, goes under the spotlight for a new exhibition at Treasurer’s House in York.
Letters, scrapbooks, photographs, film scripts and costume sketches from the personal collection of the Gone with the Wind star will be included, many of which have never been on public display before.
This is the first major display of objects from Vivien Leigh’s personal collection since her private archive of more than 10,000 items was acquired from her family in 2013 by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).
The exhibition, organised by the V&A, is being staged in the historic setting of Treasurer’s House, the former home of early 20th century businessman Frank Green, a passionate advocate of the arts, especially theatre.
Vivien Leigh gained international fame with her role as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) for which she was the first British actress to win an Academy Award. She was equally famous for her marriage to actor Laurence Olivier and they were treated like theatre royalty wherever they went.
The exhibition Public Faces, Private Lives explores both her glamorous public image and her private home life with Olivier. A scrapbook of her press cuttings for Gone with the Wind, costume sketches by designer Cecil Beaton, scripts in which Leigh added her own handwritten notes, and letters from celebrities of the day are among the objects on display in the atmospheric rooms of Treasurer’s House.
Theatre costumes worn by Vivien Leigh will take pride of place including a stunning red Christian Dior gown from Duel of Angels (1958) and the headdress from her role as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1937)
Clare Alton-Fletcher, exhibition manager at Treasurer’s House comments: “We’re delighted that fans of Vivien Leigh, film and theatre will be able to see the exhibition in this unique historic house setting in York. Frank Green, the former owner, often hosted actors and actresses at his home. Although Vivien Leigh never visited the house, earlier stars who did included Lillie Langtry and Ellen Terry who were two of her inspirations to become an actress.
“The architecture of the house really adds to the theatricality and atmosphere. For example, the Blue Drawing Room is a luscious setting with its glittering gold mirrors for ‘Becoming Scarlett’ – the section of the exhibition which looks at Vivien Leigh’s most famous role in Gone with the Wind. The double-height Great Hall meanwhile gives a sense of grandeur to the costume she wore as Cleopatra, aptly set on a small stage where visiting actors and actresses would perform plays when they came to stay at the house.”
In Vivien Leigh’s private collection were a number of stereoscopic colour photographs which give a detailed insight into many aspects of her career and activities, including film, fashion, theatre and working with Olivier. Visitors will be able to see some of these in a 3D slide show which brings the actress vividly to life.
The V&A and the National Trust have a long history of loaning objects from their collections to each other but this will be the first time an exhibition organised by the V&A will be shown at a Trust property.
Keith Lodwick, V&A curator of the exhibition said: “Vivien Leigh has an enduring appeal and remains one of the great luminaries of stage and screen. The archive is a magnificent and intact record that provides a fascinating insight into her personal life and career. Although a small rotating selection of material has been on display at the V&A since we acquired the archive in 2013, we are delighted that so many of its highlights can now be seen.”
Vivien Leigh: Public Faces, Private Lives runs from 19 September – 20 December 2015.