Not currently on display at the V&A

Polly Peachum

Figurine
ca. 1920 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This figurine represents the character Polly Peachum in Nigel Playfair's celebrated revival of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in June 1920, designed by Claud Lovat Fraser. It probably represents Sylvia Nelis, who played Polly in the original cast. With music re-written and supplemented by Frederic Austin, Gay's 18th century ballad opera, featuring traditional tunes, took London by storm and put Hammersmith firmly on the theatrical map.

The huge popularity of this production, which ran for over three years, spawned a surprising quantity of figurines in porcelain and wax. They are an indication of the impact that the production made on designers and artists. The highly simplified, almost illustrative, quality of the designs was characteristic of British theatrical design in the wake of the impact of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes and in reaction against the detailed 19th century tradition of realism and historicism. This Polly Peachum figurine is one of two examples held by the V&A Theatre Collections. The second (S.866-1981) is not so highly finished and lacks the painted features.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Moulded and painted porcelain
Brief description
Figurine of Polly Peachum, probably as played by Sylvia Nelis in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, 1920
Physical description
Unglazed porcelain figure of Polly Peachum from The Beggar's Opera. She is standing on a black painted integral rectangular base, the front of which is incised 'Polly Peachum'. She wears a full-length, simplified 18th century panniered dress in rose pink, cut away at the front, over a white underskirt. The dress has a square-cut neckline and the bodice is trimmed with turquoise green bows, with matching bows on her elbow-length sleeves. She has red-blond hair and wears a white mob cap, turquoise green mittens and shoes. Her right arm is extended and her left arm is bent up towards her body.
Dimensions
  • Height: 14.0cm
  • Approx, at widest point, across skirt width: 19cm
  • Of base depth: 5.8cm
  • Of base width: 7.4cm
  • Of base height: 0.7cm
The dress slightly extends beyond the base at sides and front
Marks and inscriptions
'Polly Peachum' (Incised on front of base)
Credit line
Bequeathed by Mrs Nora Rowntree Ison
Object history
The figure probably represents Sylvia Nelis, who played Polly Peachum in the original cast of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera in the celebrated 1920 revival by Nigel Playfair at the Lyric, Hammersmith, designed by Claud Lovat Fraser. The figure came to the Museum as part of the Cyril Beaumont Bequest. Beaumont was a friend of Lovat Fraser, who presented him with a small drawing of Macheath (S.412-2000). A A second copy of the figure in the Museum collections, S.866-1981, is not so highly finished and lacked the painted features.

Subject depicted
Literary referenceThe Beggar's Opera
Summary
This figurine represents the character Polly Peachum in Nigel Playfair's celebrated revival of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in June 1920, designed by Claud Lovat Fraser. It probably represents Sylvia Nelis, who played Polly in the original cast. With music re-written and supplemented by Frederic Austin, Gay's 18th century ballad opera, featuring traditional tunes, took London by storm and put Hammersmith firmly on the theatrical map.



The huge popularity of this production, which ran for over three years, spawned a surprising quantity of figurines in porcelain and wax. They are an indication of the impact that the production made on designers and artists. The highly simplified, almost illustrative, quality of the designs was characteristic of British theatrical design in the wake of the impact of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes and in reaction against the detailed 19th century tradition of realism and historicism. This Polly Peachum figurine is one of two examples held by the V&A Theatre Collections. The second (S.866-1981) is not so highly finished and lacks the painted features.
Collection
Accession number
S.1314-1984

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Record createdDecember 7, 2005
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