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Costume design
  • Costume design
    Messel, Oliver Hilary Sambourne, born 1904 - died 1978
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Costume design

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)

  • Date:

    1950 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil, paint and watercolour 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.

Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades (1890) was presented for the first time at the Royal Opera House by the Covent Garden Opera Trust on 21 December 1950. Messel had worked on the film version a year earlier. He produced colourful and extravagant sets and costumes which contributed to the eerie and fantastic atmosphere of the opera, about a Countess who has sold her soul to the devil for the secret of winning at cards.

Messel blends early 19th-century style dress with Russian pattern for Lisa’s evening dress in the ball scene. Pink and olive green are a typical Messel combination of colours. The orange provides a dissonant colour clash.

Physical description

A costume design by Oliver Messel for Lisa, party scene, in a Covent Garden Opera production of The Queen of Spades, 1950. A full length view of the figure turned to the left wearing early nineteenth century clothing. Light pink skirt and bodice. The bodice has olive green sleeves with gold trim. Orange overskirt and train. White hat with pink roses and leaves.

Place of Origin

London (designed)


1950 (designed)


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

Materials and Techniques

Pencil, paint and watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Oliver Messel'
Artist's signature in pencil on the bottom left hand corner on the front of the sheet.

'Lisa. Party Scene.'
Pencil inscription on the top right hand corner on the front of the sheet.


Height: 54.6 cm, Width: 38 cm

Object history note

The Queen of Spades (1890), an opera by Tchaikovsky with libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky from a short story by Alexander Pushkin (1834). Presented by the Covent Garden Opera at the Royal Opera House, London on 21 December, 1950. It was directed by Michael Benthall and featured Edgar Evans as Herman and Jess Walters as Yeletsky. It was revived at the Royal Opera House, London, in 1956.
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: This was the first time that The Queen of Spades had been presented at Covent Garden, and the first time since 1915 it had been presented in London. Messel also designed costumes and sets for a film version of the tale in 1949.

Descriptive line

Costume design by Oliver Messel for Lisa in the party scene in Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades, Royal Opera House 1950.

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; Pencil; Watercolour; Paint


Drawing (image making); Painting (image making)


Entertainment & Leisure; Designs

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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