A crowd of more than 600,000 guests – far more than the island’s population of around 100,000 at the time – showed up for the August festival. Acts included The Who, Joanie Mitchell, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix, then less than a month away from his death.
The unexpectedly high attendance levels ultimately led Parliament to ban open-air gatherings of more than 5000 people in the Isle of Wight County Council Act 1971.
However, in the exhibition Wight Spirit 1968-70, Holland Park’s young gallery Masterpiece Art celebrates the event’s 50th anniversary with a selection of the photographs that recorded the event up close.
As well as offering attractive fodder for music memorabilia collectors and enthusiasts, the show is pitched to raise awareness of the seminal festival.
“Part of what we’re trying to do with the show is to get it more appreciation in the UK and hopefully bring this legacy back to the new generation,” says gallery manager and sales director Alex Cousens.
Although the festival was revived in 2002, its original version is overshadowed in popular consciousness by 1969’s Woodstock despite equivalent acts and a larger crowd, as well as Glastonbury, which was inaugurated in 1970.
Wight Spirit 1968-70 was curated by contemporary artist Guy Portelli, who had worked with Everest before the photographer’s death. Portelli approached the gallery during its David Bowie exhibition earlier this year and has contributed several sculptures to the show.
Meanwhile, the photographer’s family has worked with the gallery on the entire archive of more than 2000 images, first concentrating on remastering editions of the 60 works featured in the exhibition.
Everest, a newsreel cameraman as well as a stills photographer, had worked as a press liaison for the festival organisers, and was granted access to the stage a result. Most of the shots capture the performers at work and the vast crowd beyond the stage.
“He really captured the energy of the event, it gives a sense of being there,” Cousens says.
However, one of the highlights, and Everest’s reported favourite, is a much quieter image: a pensive image of Jimi Hendrix backstage before his performance (top).
Hendrix has an enthusiastic collectors’ market, recently tested with items such as his guitar which sold at Bonhams in 2017 for a premium-inclusive £209,000, and a note written by him which sold the same year at Hansons for a hammer price of £5700.
Each image is offered in two sizes. Smaller prints, produced in editions of 100, are priced at £950, while large prints, produced in editions of 25, are £1500 each (plus VAT).
Alongside the photographs, the show features a large-scale glass mosaic by Portelli incorporating the handprints of the musicians who performed at the festival as well as sculptures of some of the acts, all ranging in price from £20,000- 50,000.
The gallery has also produced a documentary about the festival, Wight Spirit, 1968-70, with Blood Orange Film to help raise awareness of the event.
It is hosting a one-day show on the anniversary of Hendrix’s death on September 18.
The gallery is currently by appointment only.
Masterpiece Art launched in 2019. While many of its shows so far have related to music, it also offers Old Master, 19th century, Modern and Contemporary Art. Its next exhibition is on Picasso’s silver plates.