Photo essay

Vivien Leigh at Nymans: Part 2

Posted in - events, photo essay, vivien leigh on June 2nd 2016 15 Comments Vivien Leigh Public Faces, Private Lives. Nymans, Sussex

This is the second of two posts detailing the private view of the V&A’s Vivien Leigh: Public Faces, Private Lives traveling exhibition, which took place last Saturday at Nymans in Sussex. You can read part 1 here.

To kick off the celebration, speeches were given by Nikki Caxton of Nymans, and Keith Lodwick, the curator in charge of the Vivien Leigh archive at the V&A. Keith really deserves kudos for his ongoing interest in the subject and dedication to publicizing Vivien and her work to a wider audience. It is largely thanks to his efforts that Vivien has enjoyed an extended moment in the spotlight these past few years. If you read this, cheers, Keith!

Although Nymans is a stately home, the exhibition space itself is rather small. In this way it works a bit better than Treasurer’s House because most of the objects on display in Vivien Leigh are small and two-dimensional (photos, letters, etc), so the whole exhibition feels more intimate. In terms of selection, Keith has chosen objects that cover the spectrum of Vivien’s life and career – choosing 100 objects out of 10,000 possible choices is no easy feat. If you saw the show in York, you’ll see many of the same things here with a few additions such as a contact sheet of photographs taken of Vivien in 1963, and the portrait (my favorite!) of Vivien and Larry Olivier taken by James Abbe Jr in 1939, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. My favorite part of the exhibition continues to be the projection of stereoscopic slides that were taken with Vivien’s own camera. With the provided 3-D glasses, her world really does come to life, as if you could step right into the photos. The genius behind the digitization is Denis Pellerin of The London Stereoscopic Company. Here’s hoping he’ll get permission from the V&A to do more of them!

I was pleasantly surprised that basically the entire Farrington clan – all three grandsons and many of their children – turned up to the event. It was nice to see Vivien’s family showing an interest in what Keith is doing with the treasure trove they sold to the museum.  Tarquin Olivier was also in attendance with his lovely wife Zelfa. Most exciting of all the guests was Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer! I mentioned on the Facebook page a few months ago that Natalie is working with Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait for a possible TV project, so I was very happy to meet and chat with her. She’s apparently been to see the archive at Blyth House. It’s wonderful to know she is taking such an active interest in research.

Here is part 2 of the photos from the event. Some were taken by the wonderful Lucy Bolton (thanks, Lucy!).

Natalie Dormer and Kendra Bean at Nymans

With Game of Thrones actress Natalie Dormer

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 3.04.52 PM

With Robbie. Tarquin Olivier (left) and Jonathan Farrington (right) in background.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Denis Pellerin of the London Stereoscopic Company is the genius behind the 3-D stereoscopic slideshow, arguably the best part of the exhibition.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Curator of Theatre and Performance at the V&A, Keith Lodwick.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Robbie and Kendra with Tarquin and Zelfa Olivier. We were actually talking about Ava Gardner here.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Well-designed wall panels.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

The two Cleopatra plays, 1951-52, including a set design by Roger Furse and two Angus McBean photos.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Oliver Messel’s design work for Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Chatting with Sophie Farrington and her sister.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Vivien’s Crystal Dove Award, received for her performance in Ship of Fools.

Vivien Leigh exhibition at Nymans

Terence Pepper

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 3.11.13 PM

3-D slide show. Robbie and I gave up our glasses.

Natalie Dormer and Kendra Bean at Nymans

With Natalie Dormer and Keith Lodwick.


Exhibition programmes!


Terence Pepper, Lucy Bolton, Richard and Robbie


Robbie and Natalie Dormer view the introductory panel for the exhibition.

Artifacts from Hamlet at Elsinore, 1937

Cloak worn by Vivien in Caesar and Cleopatra (1951-52)


“Becoming Scarlett” is a popular catch phrase for text panels and book chapters and essays.


Designs for Caesar and Cleopatra by Roger Furse.


My favorite photo of the Oliviers (left) by James Abbe, Jr. On loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Gown designed by Yves Saint-Laurent for Dior, worn by Vivien in Duel of Angels

Contact sheet of photographs taken of Vivien at Eaton Square in 1963.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Nymans, Sussex


Headdress designed by Oliver Messel and worn by Vivien Leigh in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1937.

The Farrington family outside Nymans

With film professor Lucy Bolton and curator Terence Pepper

Vivien Leigh: Public Faces, Private Lives is on at Nymans until September 4, 2016. If you have a chance to get down to Sussex, it’s worth the trip.

Also published on Medium.

As of now (15) people have had something to say...

  • Andy - Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    I’m not going to be able to get down Sussex for this, but I’m hoping to do that London walk as described on this site soon.

    • Kendra - Reply

      June 2, 2016 at 9:41 pm

      I hope the directions for the walk are useful and that you have fun doing it!

      • Andy - Reply

        June 6, 2016 at 11:31 am

        I will let you know-particurlarly if I get lost! :)
        Ps Read and loved your book recently, gave it the five-star thumbs up over on Goodreads. Best of luck with the Ava one.

  • Audrey Black - Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Thank you so much for this Kendra.
    The exhibition looks terrific and to meet all those people related to Vivien is just something else!. I would love to meet Tarquin Olivier .H e does seem a very pleasant man.The Vivien circle asked me if I was going to Nymans but just too out of the way for me
    I am coming to London on Friday 9th September and staying near Russell Square. Some of the Vivien Leigh. Circle are going to meet me and show me around and the places associated life and career

    • Kendra - Reply

      June 2, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      You’ll just miss the closing date for the show, unfortunately, but I’m sure you’ll have fun on your tour with the Circle members!

  • Donald Dolce - Reply

    June 2, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Since I live in Miami Beach I doubt that I will get to the UK but loved looking at the pictures. I especially liked the wardrobe pictures and wish you could have included something from The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone – all of which were done by Pierre Balmain. I read somewhere that part of Vivien’s contract with Warner Brothers let her keep the clothes. I believe Balmain was one of the designers who clothed her in private life. Donald Dolce

    • Kendra - Reply

      June 2, 2016 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Donald,

      The exhibition doesn’t include any pieces of clothing worn by Vivien in her private life, only some costume pieces that she wore on stage. The V&A does have some articles of clothing that were owned by Vivien and gifted to the museum, but I’m not sure if any Balmain pieces are among them.

  • Peter - Reply

    June 3, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Love this! Thanks so much for sharing it all, Kendra. I remember seeing costumes worn by Larry and Vivien in both Macbeth and Titus Andronicus, on display when I visited Stratford during the summer of 1976 (I was still a teenager…). I hope those are still around.
    I wish this exhibit would travel to New York, as the Noel Coward one did, and as a Katharine Hepburn one did as well – the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center would love to host it, I’m sure!!!
    Why not give it a pitch?

    • Kendra - Reply

      June 3, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Peter,

      i don’t know about the Titus costume, but the Macbeth costume still exists and is currently on display at the British Library for their Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. It’s gorgeous!

      I agree, it should go to the States. Unfortunately, I’m not directly involved with the exhibition so my suggestion wouldn’t carry any weight. But I do think Lincoln Center or anywhere would appreciate it :)

  • Claire - Reply

    June 4, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    I was so pleased to hear this exhibition is happening close to home (I’m from Kent), I gambled on not going all the way up to York in the hope that it would travel to London/the South eventually – so yay, looking forward to visiting! I don’t often comment but I am a regular reader of your website and Facebook page since discovering your book at the NPG in London a few years ago, I find the posts so interesting – thanks!

  • Veronica DeSouza - Reply

    June 6, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    looks great, really fascinating, thank you so much for sharing your day there , will definitely be going over the summer.

  • IAN PAYNE - Reply

    June 7, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Hip-Hopping with the great and the good or should I say the rich and famous – De-Lovely [and very interesting] !!

  • Sandy Green - Reply

    June 22, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Great post about what must have been a wonderful day.
    I live in Kent so went along to Nymans this week and loved the exhibition, it was so worth the trip. Your book is nice and prominent in the gift shop!
    I had seen the Titania crown in the V&A, but not clearly as it was housed in a very dark cabinet, so it was lovely to see it properly in a well- lit case.
    Sadly, there is no 3D slideshow for the public, just a small video about
    Vivien and the exhibition in the last room – you were so lucky to be able to see that, I am a little bit jealous! I did ask the room custodian, but she looked blank and knew nothing about it.
    If anyone is thinking of going – do! It is really worth it.

    • Terence Pepper - Reply

      January 1, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      Only just saw your comment.. there was a 3 D show at Nymans in a shed near the house.. sadly it was not very well signed posted.. despite protests.. lots of people missed it but some cayghtt it.. there are plans for these to be shown at v and A in the sumner of 2017

  • LoveVIV - Reply

    February 24, 2017 at 2:19 pm


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