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Set model

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)

  • Date:

    1949 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Wood, cardboard, fabric, and paint.

  • 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.

Messel’s painterly and poetic interpretation of medieval period costume and architecture complemented Christopher Fry’s verse play, The Lady’s Not For Burning (1949), Fry's first play to be presented at a West End theatre.

Fry recalled 'The set was enchanting; the inventiveness of it stays in the mind - the hanging birdcage, the shelf behind Tyson's desk, the way to the garden, the feeling of Spring. It was all a bit grand and ecclesiastical for an impecunious mayor of a small country town, perhaps. But the charm of it, and particularly the space of sky, by sunlight, rainlight and mooonlight, outweighed any such reservations.' (Quoted in Pinkham, R., ed., Oliver Messel: an exhibition held at the Theatre Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983).

Physical description

A set model by Oliver Messel for a H.M. Tennent production of The Lady's Not For Burning, 1949. The model represents a room in the house of Hebble Tyson, Mayor of the small market town of Cool Clary. A wooden box with an velvet strips on the inside. The set contains a medieval building constructed from painted pieces of paper and parts which are three dimensional. It has a stone floor, Gothic windows and furniture. It features a spiral staircase and turret on the right. To the left of the turret and staircase, a desk and shelf with books stacked on the desk and shelves. To the left, a bird basket and an open door leading to a passageway. In the foreground, a ladder leaning against a wall, next to a wooden structure housing a wheel and cloths. There is also a small wood fire in the foreground.

Place of Origin

London (designed)


1949 (designed)


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

Materials and Techniques

Wood, cardboard, fabric, and paint.

Marks and inscriptions

'The Lady's Not for Burning / Produced by John Gielgud at the Globe Theatre' / for H. M. Tennant 1949. / Oliver Messel'
Ink inscription on a paper label pasted on to the front of the model frame.


Height: 57.5 cm, Width: 60 cm, Depth: 38.1 cm

Object history note

The Lady’s not for Burning, a verse play in three acts by Christopher Fry. Oliver Messel’s production was first produced by H. M. Tennent Productions Ltd. at the Globe Theatre, London on 11 May, 1949. It was directed by John Gielgud and Esmé Percy and featured John Gielgud as Thomas Mendip, Pamela Brown as Jennet Jourdemayne, Claire Bloom as Alizon Eliot and Richard Burton as Richard. It was also performed at the Royale Theatre, New York, on 8 November, 1950.
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: Association with Christopher Fry's abortive poetic drama movement.

Descriptive line

Set model by Oliver Messel for Christopher Fry's play The Lady's Not For Burning, 1949.

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; Watercolour; Charcoal; Pencil; Kaolinite; Paint; Card; Wood; Gauze; Velvet; Foil; Wire; Masking tape; Glue; Perspex; Gouache; Masking tape


Painting (image making); Drawing (image making); Glueing


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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