Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Oil painting - Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    ca.1775 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on board

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with financial assistance from the estate of Jack Reading

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, Room 104, case WE

The actor David Garrick became manager of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1747. By this time the theatre, built in 1674 on the site of an earlier playhouse, seemed old-fashioned and in need of renovation. Minor improvements were made to the interior, then in 1775 Garrick employed the famous architect Robert Adam to re-design the whole building inside and out.

This late 18th century painting shows Adam's imposing neo-classical entrance on Brydges Street (now Catherine Street). The original building had been licensed by Charles II and therefore was entitled to call itself the Theatre Royal. Adam acknowledged this by placing carved figures of a lion and a unicorn, the emblems of British Royalty, on the triangular pediment. The Royal Arms are shown on a medallion in the centre. At the apex is a classical trophy of Greek armour and weapons.

Adam's design was celebrated in contemporary engravings. These emphasised the grandeur and depicted the new entrance as a palatial structure towering over tiny passers-by. By contrast this painting appears to be a realistic representation of what the unknown artist has seen in Brydges Street, including the pawnbroker's shop to the left of the theatre and the inn to the right.

Physical description

A view of the Brydges Street entrance to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1775. The building has an arcaded ground floor with a balcony fronted by iron railings above and upper storeys of three bays with Ionic pilasters, each bay containing an upper and lower storey window. The whole is surmounted by a pediment with a carved martial trophy at the apex, a carved lion on the left hand end and a carved unicorn on the right. A roundel bearing the Royal Arms is at the centre of the tympanum. To the left of the theatre is a pawn broker's shop, to the right an inn.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (painted)


ca.1775 (painted)



Materials and Techniques

Oil on board

Marks and inscriptions

A typewritten note on the back of the painting records that it was presented to the Drury Lane lessee, Frederick Balsir Chatterton, by Joseph Arnold Cave, an author, actor and manager.
The note was written by the painting's previous owner, Professor Allardyce Nicoll


Height: 6.5 in, Width: 8.5 in

Object history note

The painting shows the exterior of the Drury Lane theatre as designed by Robert Adam in 1775 and is likely to be contemporary with Adam's re-modelling of the building. It was presented to Frederick Balsir Chatterton (1834-1886), the lessee of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, by the actor, manager and author, Joseph Arnold Cave.
Professor Allardyce Nicoll (1894-1976), Director of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, bought the painting and S.503-2006 from Ifan Kyrle Fletcher in 1965. Both are illustrationed and discussed in Nicoll's posthumously published book, The Garrick Stage (Manchester University Press, 1980). They remained in the possession of Nicoll's widow until sold at auction on 11 May 2006 when they were purchased by the Theatre Museum for £600

Descriptive line

Oil painting, front entrance to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, by an unknown artist, ca.1775.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Nicoll, Allardyce, The Garrick Stage: theatres and audience in the eighteenth century, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1980, vii. 184p..; ill.; 25cm. ISBN0719007682.


Oil colour; Wood



Subjects depicted



Entertainment & Leisure; Paintings


Theatre and Performance Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.