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

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)

  • Date:

    1953-1959 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil, gouache, paint, 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.

In addition to his work as a theatre designer, Messel designed textiles for the silk making firm Sekers based in Whitehaven, Cumbria. Sir Nicholas Sekers, the owner of the silk mill and a great supporter of the theatre, regularly supplied the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne with fabrics and met Messel in the early 1950s. Both men shared a belief in exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail. Messel’s contemporary artists, Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) and Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), also designed fabrics for the firm.

To celebrate the Coronation of Elizabeth I in 1953, Sekers commissioned Messel to design silk brocade patterns, known as the ‘Coronation Collection’. Messel also created designs for taffeta in 1959.

Physical description

Fish, a design for a textile pattern in gouache, gold paint, watercolour and ink.

Place of Origin

London (designed)


1953-1959 (designed)


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

Materials and Techniques

Pencil, gouache, paint, watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

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


Height: 37.9 cm, Width: 25.1 cm

Object history note

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

Textile design with fishes by Oliver Messel for Sekers, silk manufacturer, 1953 or 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

Possibly designed for the 'Coronation Collection', 1953, or possibly later, 1959.

Reason For Production: Commission


Paper; Ink; Watercolour; Gouache; Pencil; Paint


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



Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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