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Dazzle ferry exhibition

2 April 2015 by Sam

artist Sir Peter Blake on the colourfully decorated ferry

Sir Peter Blake, patron of the John Moores Painting Prize, on the Snowdrop dazzle ferry

This morning the dazzled Mersey ferry Snowdrop, painted with an amazing dazzle inspired design by Sir Peter Blake, sailed across the river for the first time. From the fantastic reaction of the commuters, tourists and press on board today it looks set to become a popular attraction on the river.

There’s more to the dazzle ferry than the colourful exterior though, as Merseyside Maritime Museum curator Ben Whittaker has co-curated an on board exhibition with Tate Liverpool. The displays explore the history of dazzle in the First World War and Liverpool’s war at sea, linking with the museum’s own Lusitania exhibition and featuring a number of photos of wartime dazzle ships from the Maritime Archives. This project continues National Museums Liverpool’s collaboration with Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and 14-18Now, after the dazzle inspired design was applied to the Edmund Gardner ship last year.

ferry passenger looking at dazzle ship displayThe ferry exhibition features two models made specially by our ship and historic models conservators Chris Moseley and David Parsons. Each model is a reproduction of a dazzled model made by Norman Wilkinson in 1917, held in the Imperial War Museum collections. Wilkinson developed the dazzle program operated by the Admiralty, and the original models were used by Wilkinson’s team to test the effectiveness of the dazzle design in confusing enemy U-boats on the speed and course of a ship. Approved designs were transferred to a scaled plan, and used by teams across the country (including in Liverpool) to dazzle paint Merchant and Royal Navy vessels.

Chris and David built these models from scratch with only a few reference photos to go off – sourcing scale plans to replicate the hull shapes and deck features, and painstakingly recreating the dazzle designs. The results are, well, dazzling! Keep a look out for a forthcoming blog post that will look at the models in more depth.

model ship decorated with a geometric pattern in contrasting colours

One of the model dazzle ships on display on the dazzle ferry

  1. Craig says:

    I saw this on a day trip recently and thought it was great. Its certainly worth a trip.

    • Sam says:

      Thanks Craig. The ferry does look fantastic doesn’t it and it’s great being able to find out all about the history of dazzle paint in the displays. We hope that lots of people will enjoy being ‘razzle dazzled’ on the ferry – and maybe pop to Merseyside Maritime Museum afterwards to see more dazzle ships in our new Lusitania exhibition.

  2. Chris Moseley says:

    Dazzle paint was intended to confuse the speed and direction of the ship so the U boat commander would fire and miss the target. This idea was taken further by building ships that looked exactly the same front and back so you couldn’t tell whether it was coming or going. The model in the picture is of one of those ships, all very confusing!

    • Sam says:

      It’s fascinating that these beautiful designs have a very practical and serious purpose, which potentially saved many lives during the First World War. The models are works of art in their own right, I’m looking forward to finding out more about them.

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