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Set model

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)

  • Date:

    1945 (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 first post-war production was Sheridan’s comedy of manners, The Rivals (1775). Performed at the Criterion Theatre in 1945, and directed by William Armstrong and Edith Evans, he designed costumes and sets in pastiche of eighteenth century period style. The artificiality and lightness of his designs were well suited to the improbable plot and satiric spirit of the play.

Messel inventively combines materials to create the set model, which he used to establish the scale of the set. Some parts of the model, such as the bookcase, are painted illusionistically on flat paper cut-outs, whilst other parts, such as the staircase, are made from painted and folded card. He uses small pieces of painted acetate to imitate the shimmering effect of a crystal chandelier.

Physical description

Set model by Oliver Messel for Captain Absolute's lodgings, Act II. The set model consists of a wooden box carved and painted in baroque style, with velvet strips on the inside of the box. A gold fringe and yellow curtain at the top of the front of the set. A staircase on the left. A window, red day bed, chair and table. Large Chinese cabinet. On the right, a view through an arch, through which can be seen bookshelves. A chandelier in acetate.

Place of Origin

London (designed)


1945 (designed)


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

Materials and Techniques

Wood, cardboard, fabric, and paint.

Marks and inscriptions

Label attached to the back of the wooden box.


Height: 45 cm, Width: 44.3 cm, Depth: 17.5 cm

Object history note

The Rivals, a comedy in five acts by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1775). Oliver Messel’s production first produced by H. M. Tennent Productions Ltd. And C.E.M.A. at the Criterion Theatre, London on 24 September, 1945. It was directed by William Armstrong and Edith Evans with assistance from Tyrone Guthrie. It featured Edith Evans as Mrs. Malaprop and Anthony Quayle as Captain Absolute.
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.

Descriptive line

Set model by Oliver Messel for Captain Absolute's Lodgings, Act II of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals, Criterion Theatre 1945.

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 (pigment); Paint; Gouache; Wood; Synthetic fabric; Glue; Masking tape; Plaster of Paris; Acetate film; Card; Perspex; Foil; Fur


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


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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