Saturday, September 3, 2016

Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball 1919

The Sketch (March 19, 1919)
Among artists, designers and architects, there is a long tradition of sponsoring annual costume balls, fancy dress balls, or Beaux-Arts balls (not unlike the Mardi Gras), often amusingly raucous events, for the purpose of fundraising. At a Beaux-Arts ball in New York in 1931, for example, some of the city's most famous architects came dressed in costumes that were modeled after their own famous buildings. Among artists, given their fabled Bohemian bent, these parties typically turned into riotous fests of uninhibited and inebriated revelers, dressed in astonishing costumes (or, sometimes, barely dressed at all).

One of these events was the annual Chelsea Arts Ball in England, which the Chelsea Arts Club (founded in 1891) had sponsored at the Royal Albert Hall. The annual celebration was interrupted by World War I, which began in 1914, and only near the end of the war, in 1919, was it decided that the Chelsea Arts Ball could resume. This time however the theme chosen was the disruptive crazy-quilt patterns that had been applied to wartime dazzle-painted ships, intermixed with the public's bewilderment toward emerging styles of Modern Art: Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism, Surrealism and Dada. As a result, the 1919 fancy dress ball (held on the evening of March 12, 1919) became known as the Chelsea Arts Club's Dazzle Ball.

The event was widely covered by newspaper and magazine articles, as had been an earlier American "camoufleurs' ball" that took place in the winter of 1917 at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC, and a camoufleurs' "carnival ball" (sponsored by the League of American Penwomen) that was also held in Washington in February 1919. We've discussed these events in earlier blogposts, including an account of a comparable dazzle ball (modeled after the Chelsea Arts Club festival) that took place in Sydney AU on October 7, 1919.

In its March 22 issue, the Illustrated London News featured a spread of illustrations of the costumes and the dancing that had taken place at the Chelsea Arts Club's Dazzle Ball. A few days earlier, in its March 19 issue, The Sketch included on its front cover photographs of costumes that premiered that night (see cover reproduced above). At the bottom of the cover is a headline that reads THE GREAT "DAZZLE" BALL OF THE CHELSEA ARTS CLUB; HUMAN CAMOUFLAGE, and below that is this paragraph—

After an interval of five years, the Chelsea Arts Club once more gave a great fancy dress ball, last Wednesday, March 12. The Albert Hall was decorated for the occasion with a wonderful scheme of "Dazzle," as used in naval camouflage during the war, and a great many of the costumes were designed on similar lines. A good example is seen in the left-hand lower photograph, showing Mrs. Bertram Park (neé Yvonne Gregory), who is well-known as a painter of miniatures.

That portrait of Yvonne Gregory Park (she herself was also a photographer), which was taken by her husband British photographer Bertram Park, is easily the best-known photograph of a costume from the Dazzle Ball. Equally wonderful is the photograph at the bottom right of the cover, showing two women, one draped in the American flag, the other in the Union Jack.

In the same issue of The Sketch (listed by HathiTrust Digital Library as in public domain in the US) is another full page of costumes, on page 353 (as shown below), this time with the page headline ON THE RAZZLE DAZZLE: COSTUMES AT THE CHELSEA ARTS and then at the bottom of the page, a smaller second headline reads: THE "DAZZLE" BALL OF THE CHELSEA ARTS CLUB, AT THE ALBERT HALL: SOME NOTABLE FIGURES, followed by this paragraph—

The Sketch (March 19, 1919)

As already mentioned, the Chelsea Arts Ball on March 12 was a wonderful success. The Albert Hall presented literally a "Dazzling" spectacle. Our central photograph shows Miss Margot Kelly, who recently left "Oh, Joy," at the Kingsway, to appear shortly in a new American comedy. She is wearing a Columbine dress of her own design. To the left of her is Mrs. Barribal, wife of a well-known artist whose work is familiar to our readers, in a costume which she made from an armchair cover.

On page 355 of that same magazine, there is a brief article (attributed to "The Worldling") that is titled The Chelsea Arts Ball and reads as follows—

It was a case of "dazzle-dazzle, joy and jazzle" at the Albert Hall last Wednesday night, when the long-heralded folic of the Chelsea Arts Club came off. As all the world knows, the scheme of decoration was based on the art of "Dazzle," as applied during the war to the disguising of ships and the discomfiture of U-boats. The same artists who did that work for the Admiralty—Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, Lieutenant Cecil King, [American] Captain Burnell Poole, and Sergeant [Walter E.] Webster—had undertaken to camouflage the Albert Hall in similar style for the great occasion. The background was a "dazzle" battleship, with a "dazzle" sunset, and all the boxes were hung with muslin draperies in "disruptive" colors. The "dazzling" of the dancers themselves was left, of course, to their own individual ingenuity, and many artists had designed costumes for the camouflage of the human form. The effect was a whirling scene that delighted the hearts of the Vorticists.

In advance of the Dazzle Ball, The Sketch had published a page of preparatory drawings of four of the anticipated costumes, on page 292, on March 5 (in those drawings, Yvonne Gregory Bertram's striped costume is referred to as the "jazzle"). Following the event, a further, briefer note (underscoring the contributions of Cecil King and Walter E. Webster by name) appeared on page xii of the March 26 issue of The Sketch.

Apparently, The Sketch was enjoying a lively reader response to its features on the Dazzle Ball, and indeed it returned to the subject again in a cartoon (attributed to Thorpe) on p. 427 of the June 25 issue. Reproduced below, the headline of the cartoon reads: THE EVE OF THE FANCY-DRESS BALL, while the caption beneath it is worded IT'S A WISE CHILD THAT KNOWS ITS OWN MOTHER.

The Sketch (June 25, 1919)

There's much more to this—but we'll save it for a future post.