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

  • Place of origin:

    London, England (designed)

  • Date:

    1959 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Charcoal, pencil, Chinese white, ink and wash on paper

  • Credit Line:

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

  • Museum number:

    S.388-2006

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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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 designed costumes and sets for Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play Suddenly Last Summer (1959). The disturbing story about the mystery surrounding the death of Sebastian, the poet son of the rich, eccentric Mrs. Venable, gave Messel the opportunity to create a fantastic, exotic garden which contributed to the dark atmosphere of the film. It starred Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift, and was nominated for several Oscars, including two Oscars for Messel’s set designs.

Messel’s interior designs were inspired by reference photographs of architecture and decorative art in the French Quarter of New Orleans and eighteenth century art and design.

Physical description

Set design by Oliver Messel for Sebastian's studio in a film production of Suddenly Last Summer, 1959.

Place of Origin

London, England (designed)

Date

1959 (designed)

Artist/maker

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

Materials and Techniques

Charcoal, pencil, Chinese white, ink and wash on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Oliver Messel'

Dimensions

Height: 25.1 cm, Width: 37.9 cm

Object history note

Suddenly Last Summer, a film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz with a screenplay by Gore Vidal from a play (1959) by Tennessee Williams. It featured Montgomery Clift as Dr. Cukrowicz, Katharine Hepburn as Violet Venable and Elizabeth Taylor as Catherine Holly. Messel was nominated for two Oscars for his set designs.
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 design for Sebastian's studio by Oliver Messel in the film of Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer, 1959.

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

Materials

Paper; Pencil; Ink; Wash; Charcoal; Kaolinite (pigment)

Techniques

Drawing (image-making)

Categories

Entertainment & Leisure; Designs

Production Type

Design

Collection code

T&P

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Qr_O127964
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