June 23, 2024


Get Into Fashion

how French rococo gave us American cartoons


Inspiring Walt Disney considers how everything that Disney absorbed on those two visits had a pronounced influence on his animated films. It focuses most on Cinderella and the 1991 Beauty and the Beast, firstly because both are based on fairy tales written in early-18th-century France – by Charles Perrault (Cinderella) and Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (Beauty and the Beast) – but also because those two films display most clearly the influence of French decorative art. An edition of the Perrault is on display.

After pairing an early Disney short, The Clock Store (1931), in which a man and woman dance repeatedly together and apart, with two porcelain figures modelled by Johann Friedrich Luck in 1758, the exhibition moves swiftly onto Cinderella. Besides the transformation scene, it presents the film’s gorgeous background paintings, each loaded with swags and sconces, but in a curiously 1950s palette.

Wherever you stand, music from Beauty and the Beast curls into your ears, layering everything you see with an unconquerable combination of emotion and nostalgia. Disney would have liked this: he believed that all senses should be activated while watching his films, and he even experimented with perfuming his cinemas.

The show is laid out as if each clock or figurine were in use – a vase in a nook, a clock on a mantel, and so on. On the hour, two of the clocks even chime, and the walls are papered with designs featuring the flowing scrolls and foliage of Rococo taste-maker Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier. It’s comparable to wandering unchaperoned through someone else’s house – if that someone were extremely rich. 

A section on Beauty and the Beast shows how Mrs Potts, Lumière and Cogsworth – respectively a teapot, candlestick and mantel clock – are traceable to specific pieces. Elsewhere, there’s scrutiny of the Rococo poster boy Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 1767 painting The Swing, which inspired animators from Beast to Tangled to Frozen.

Overall, there’s just enough of each ingredient – furnishing, drawing, figurine, moving image – for the exhibition to satiate but still feel witty. I’d wondered whether anatomising Disney’s genius would dull its magic. Joyously, it does not.

From April 6 to October 16. Tickets: 020 7563 9539; wallacecollection.org


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