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Set design
  • Set design
    Messel, Oliver Hilary Sambourne, born 1904 - died 1978
  • Enlarge image

Set design

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)

  • Date:

    1955 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Messel, Oliver Hilary Sambourne, born 1904 - died 1978 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Charcoal, ink, wash, paint, watercolour, sellotape on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Acquired with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund and the Friends of the V&A

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Great Britain’s leading theatre designer from the early 1930s to the mid 1950s, Oliver Messel (1904-1978) won international acclaim for his lavish, painterly and poetic designs informed by period styles. His work spans ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue. Messel’s traditional style of theatre design became unfashionable from the mid 1950s onwards, and he increasingly concentrated on painting, interior and textile design, including designing luxury homes in the Caribbean.

Mozart’s opera Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786) was performed to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1955. Critics praised Messel’s exuberant pastiche of 18th-century art and design ‘The décor by Oliver Messel was in his richest and most inventive vein, fully emphasising the unique blend of sharp satire and human understanding for the folly and unhappiness of the characters which Mozart so perfectly caught in his music’ (The Tatler, 22 June, 1955).

The 18th-century style interior of the hall in the Count’s palazzo is fitting for Mozart’s period. The design is simple and understated; Messel commented ‘Mozart’s ability to illuminate humanity in the framework of his plots does not need overstatement from the designer to make its effects.’ (Glyndebourne Festival Programme, 1956)

Physical description

A set design by Oliver Messel for the drop cut-cloth in Act III of a Glyndebourne production of Le Nozze di Figaro, 1955. A design for a hall in a palazzo. Four windows, with decorative ceiling and wall panels. Yellow curtains. The design is in two pieces, with the window frames cut out on the upper sheet, showing the window panes on the sheet below.

Place of Origin

London (designed)


1955 (designed)


Messel, Oliver Hilary Sambourne, born 1904 - died 1978 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Charcoal, ink, wash, paint, watercolour, sellotape on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Oliver Messel'
Artist's signature in ink on the back of the sheet.

'ACT III / I & II'
Ink inscription on the back of the sheet.


Height: 42.8 cm, Width: 55.9 cm

Object history note

Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786), an opera in four acts by Mozart with libretto by da Ponte, from Beaumarchais’ La folle journée, ou, Le Marriage de Figaro (1778). Oliver Messel’s production was first performed by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera at Glyndebourne on 8 June, 1955. It was directed by Carl Ebert and featured Bruscantini as Figaro and Elena Rizzieri as Susanna. It was revived at Glyndebourne in 1956, 1958, 1962, 1963 and 1965.
Lord Snowdon, Oliver Messel's nephew, inherited Messel's theatre designs and other designs and artefacts. The designs were briefly stored in a disused chapel in Kensington Palace before being housed at the V&A from 1981 on indefinite loan. The V&A Theatre Museum purchased the Oliver Messel collection from Lord Snowdon in 2005.

Historical significance: At the height of his career, Messel designed costumes and sets for operas at Glyndebourne.

Descriptive line

Set design by Oliver Messel for the drop cut-cloth in Act III scenes I & II of Mozart's opera Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Glyndebourne 1955.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Pinkham, Roger (ed.) Oliver Messel: an exhibition held at the Theatre Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, 22 June - 30 September 1983.
London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983. 200p., ill
ISBN 0905209508)

Production Note

Reason For Production: Commission


Paper; Charcoal; Ink; Wash; Watercolour; Paint; Sellotape


Drawing (image making); Painting (image making)


Entertainment & Leisure; Designs

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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