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TIL Summer 2018

26 DRAGONS RETURN TO THE

26 DRAGONS RETURN TO THE GREAT PAGODA AT KEW AFTER 200 YEARS It was one of the jewels in the crown of Georgian London: a building so unusual that a suspicious public were unconvinced it would remain standing when it was built in 1762. Designed at the height of the eighteenth century craze for Chinoiserie, The Great Pagoda at Kew was famously adorned with eighty brightly coloured wooden dragons. The eye-catching dragons were the talk of the town for twenty years, before disappearing in the 1780s, rumoured to be payment for the Prince Regent’s gambling debts. Now, as a two-year project by Historic Royal Palaces nears its end, dragons once more adorn this magnificent structure. Officially reopened to visitors by His Royal Highness Prince Charles on 12 July, it offers one of the earliest and finest bird’s eye views of London. The Great Pagoda was designed by architect Sir William Chambers for the royal family after a visit to China. Chambers was inspired by the buildings he saw and his designs for the Great Pagoda were influenced by prints he had seen of the famous Porcelain Pagoda at Nanjing. Londoners and tourists alike flocked to see the striking 163ft (nearly 50m) tall building, which formed part of a homage to the Grand Tour in the famous gardens, with the Pagoda providing an unusual window into Chinese culture at the time. Observers were most impressed by dragons, designed to dazzle and described tantalizingly in accounts at the time as ‘iridescent.’ Though memorable, the dragons were removed in 1784, when repairs were undertaken to the building’s roof. Despite it being rumoured at the time to have been payment for the Prince Regent’s debts, they were probably badly degraded after the mini ice age at the end of the eighteenth century. Remarkably, in spite of their fame, none of the eighty dragons appear to have survived, beginning a two hundred year hunt to rediscover or replace them. The architect who designed the Palm House – Decimus Burton – made an attempt as early as 1843, and right up to the 1970s, the mystery of the lost dragons and the question of how to replicate them was still being discussed. Finally, and only thanks to advances in 3D printing technology which limit their impact on the structure, eighty new dragons adorn the Pagoda once more. This summer, families can embark on a dragon quest around Kew Gardens to track down the Great Pagoda’s decorated beasts. And, no journey to Kew will now be complete without a visit to the top of the Pagoda, where visitors can marvel at the stunning 360° views of London. LARGEST EVER CHRISTIAN DIOR EXHIBITION IN THE UK AT V&A ‘There is no other country in the world, besides my own, whose way of life I like so much. I love English traditions, English politeness, English architecture. I even love English cooking.’ – Christian Dior In February 2019, the V&A will open the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever staged in the UK on the House of Dior – the museum’s biggest fashion exhibition since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015. Spanning 1947 to the present day, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams will trace the history and impact of one of the 20th century’s most influential couturiers, and the six artistic directors who have succeeded him, to explore the enduring influence of the fashion house. Ecarlate afternoon dress, Autumn-Winter 1955 Haute Couture collection, Y line. Victoria and Albert Museum. Photo © Laziz Hamani This exhibition will investigate Dior’s creative collaborations with influential British manufacturers, and his most notable British clients, from author Nancy Mitford to ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn. A highlight will be the Christian Dior dress worn by Princess Margaret for her 21st birthday celebrations. It will also bring to life Dior’s spectacular fashion shows staged in stately homes, including Blenheim Palace in 1954. t h i s i s l o n d o n m a g a z i n e • t h i s i s l o n d o n o n l i n e

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