Theatre Costume

1945 (designed)
Theatre Costume thumbnail 1
Theatre Costume thumbnail 2
+6
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Theatre & Performance, Room 105
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

In 1944 designer Oliver Messel was released from his war duties to work on the film Caesar and Cleopatra, adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play. Messel was responsible for the costumes and the interior of the sets, imaginatively interpreting Roman Egyptian dress and decor in the context of the mid 1940s. The film cost over £1 million and brought a welcome sense of extravagance and colour into a drab post-war world.

Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) played the role of Cleopatra. Messel designed a number of wigs for her, each in an instantly recognisable Egyptian style. This wig and headdress are designed to look realistic in close-up but only have details on the parts that show. The head covering, made of blue leather 'lotus' shapes, is not separate but is sewn to the hair to keep it in place and the hair itself is divided into three bunches, one hanging over each shoulder and one down the back, which are covered in black net to prevent them catching on the lotuses. At the forehead the hair is trimmed but not styled as it is hidden by more lotuses attached to the front of the gold headdress.

Oliver Messel (1904-1978) was Britain's leading theatre designer from the early 1930s to the mid 1950s, working in every aspect of entertainment - ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue - as well as in interior decoration and textile design. His lavish, painterly and romantic designs, informed by period styles, were perfectly in tune with his times and earned him an international reputation. By 1960, however, Messel's style had become unfashionable, having no sympathy with the new 'kitchen sink' school of theatre. He increasingly concentrated on non-theatrical painting and designing and eventually retired to the Caribbean, where he began a new career designing and building highly idiosyncratic luxury villas.


object details
Category
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.
(Some alternative part names are also shown below)
  • Film Costume
  • Film Costume
  • Wig
  • Theatre Costume
  • Film Costume
  • Headdress
Brief Description
Headdress and wig for Cleopatra designed by Oliver Messel for the film Caesar and Cleopatra, adapted from the play by George Bernard Shaw, released 1945.
Gallery Label
13 HEADDRESS AND WIG FOR THE FILM CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA 1945 This wig, created for Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra, was made from a range of materials, including papier-mâché, glass and leather. Messel was adept at turning everyday things into believable stage and film costumes. The materials also made the wig and headdress extremely lightweight to wear. Film by Gabriel Pascal, 1945 Glass, beads, leather, wax, wire, papier-mâché Acquired with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Art Fund and the Friends of the V&A Museum nos. S.514:1 to 2-2006 (October 2013)
Credit line
Acquired with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund and the Friends of the V&A
Object history
The film of George Bernard Shaw's play Caesar and Cleopatra , starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh, was directed by Gabriel Pascal and released in England in 1945. Messel designed the costumes and the set interiors. It was the only colour film which he designed.

Lord Snowdon, Oliver Messel's nephew, inherited Messel's remaining designs and artefacts (many designs were sold or given away during the artist's lifetime). The collection was briefly stored in a disused chapel in Kensington Palace before being placed on indefinite loan to the V&ATheatre Museum from 1981. The Oliver Messel Collection was purchased from Lord Snowdon in 2005 with the aid of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and the Friends of the V&A.
Production
Made for the film of George Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra, released in England in 1945
Summary
In 1944 designer Oliver Messel was released from his war duties to work on the film Caesar and Cleopatra, adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play. Messel was responsible for the costumes and the interior of the sets, imaginatively interpreting Roman Egyptian dress and decor in the context of the mid 1940s. The film cost over £1 million and brought a welcome sense of extravagance and colour into a drab post-war world.



Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) played the role of Cleopatra. Messel designed a number of wigs for her, each in an instantly recognisable Egyptian style. This wig and headdress are designed to look realistic in close-up but only have details on the parts that show. The head covering, made of blue leather 'lotus' shapes, is not separate but is sewn to the hair to keep it in place and the hair itself is divided into three bunches, one hanging over each shoulder and one down the back, which are covered in black net to prevent them catching on the lotuses. At the forehead the hair is trimmed but not styled as it is hidden by more lotuses attached to the front of the gold headdress.



Oliver Messel (1904-1978) was Britain's leading theatre designer from the early 1930s to the mid 1950s, working in every aspect of entertainment - ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue - as well as in interior decoration and textile design. His lavish, painterly and romantic designs, informed by period styles, were perfectly in tune with his times and earned him an international reputation. By 1960, however, Messel's style had become unfashionable, having no sympathy with the new 'kitchen sink' school of theatre. He increasingly concentrated on non-theatrical painting and designing and eventually retired to the Caribbean, where he began a new career designing and building highly idiosyncratic luxury villas.
Bibliographic Reference
Pinkham, Roger (ed.) Oliver Messel, London, V&A, 1983
Collection
Accession Number
S.514-1 to 2-2006

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record createdMay 17, 2007
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