Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection: An Enquiring Mind

The Wallace Collection’s current display of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes – An Enquiring Mind – is a show of pure genius.  The magnificent collection of paintings, furniture and ceramics is the perfect setting to highlight the breadth and depth of this shoemaking genius’s inspiration.Most impressive of all is the sensitive and careful placing of each style of shoe to form perfect clusters to complement the art around them.  The notes to the exhibition enlarge on this and the outcome is that there is something to delight the eye whichever way you direct your gaze.

In the East Drawing room, under the magnificent painting, The Riches of Autumn (Jacob Jordaens, 1593-1678) we find a collection of shoes and boots in the richest black velvet , luscious golden satin, beaded and feathered and displaying all the abundance of the season.

The Great Gallery features a teal lace stiletto picking up the colour of the peacock’s tail in Peacock and other Birds (M d Hondecoeter, 1636-1695).  A cluster of pastel satin shoes and mules, delicately laced with pearls and rosettes is the perfect companion to The Infanta Margarita Maria (after Velazquez, 1599-1660), picking up the silk of her gown and her jewels.

There is humour too.  What better to accompany Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier (1584-1666) than a reinterpreted cavalier’s boot, its cuff dropped from knee to ankle.  The positioning of boot and painting suggests the subject is enjoying the joke too.

The high point of the display is the Oval Drawing room – a small room of Fragonard and Boucher paintings that houses a selection of shoes made for Sophia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette.  Here, Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour (1703-1770) presides over shoes that look as light and fanciful as macaroons.  Though Pompadour lived a generation before Marie Antoinette (and seems to have been significantly more politically astute), she would surely have appreciated the power of these shoes to maintain court hierarchies.

Thank you, Wallace Collection for a beautifully conceived show, perfectly juxtaposing painting and craftsmanship.  It is thought-provoking for sure but it also manages to capture the sheer joie de vivre of the art of artisanship, seasoned with a dash of wit.  This is the perfect way to show fashion and we need more like this.  And I need some more Manolos…..

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