Friday, 2 January 2015

The Chelsea Arts Club New Years Eve Ball

From the LIFE archivesphotographed by Anthony Linck and George Rodger. 

If you woke up yesterday with a skull busting headache, a lampshade on your head, and a face blooming with ten different shades of lipstick kisses; you would have enjoyed the Chelsea Arts Club, New Years Eve Ball.   

The Chelsea Arts Club is a private members club located in London with a membership of over 2,400, including artists, poets, architects, writers, dancers, actors, musicians, photographers, and filmmakers. The club was established on 21 March 1891 (in Chelsea), as a rival to the older Arts Club in Mayfair, on the instigation of the artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who had been a (sometimes controversial) member of the older club. (

The club has a rich history and one shining gem from its past is their infamous New Years’ Eve Ball which was banned in 1958 after 50 years of reverie. The party featured a parade of floats created by artists that made a tour of the dance floor during the evening. The floats became the focus of a chaotic tradition; the frenzied crowd would destroy them while security guards desperately tried to prevent the madness. The fighting and destruction would usually result in minor injuries and in a few cases some had to be hospitalized. 

The festivities included other acts of “uncivilized behavior” which included reports of public nudity, drunken displays of affection, fighting, and unreserved homosexuality (which was still illegal at the time and punishable by a two year prison sentence or chemical castration-YIKES!). The ball was one of the few places where gay people could freely express themselves and come out of hiding for an evening of celebration.

Here is a video from 1954 showing the grand ball;

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