Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Set design - The Mikado

The Mikado

  • Object:

    Set design

  • Place of origin:

    London (painted)

  • Date:

    1885 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Craven, Hawes, born 1837 - died 1910 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour and bodycolour over pencil on drawing board

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dame Bridget D'Oyly Carte

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 125, Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery

Object Type
In the 19th century, set designs were usually devised and executed by one person - a craftsman designer or scene painter - not as now by separate designers. After set designs were approved, squared-up drawings were produced from which enlarged versions were painted in the correct proportions.

By 1885 Hawes Craven (1837-1910) was a leading scenic artist whose collaboration with Henry Irving for his grand productions at the Lyceum Theatre resulted in some of the most spectacular and thoroughly researched scenery on the London stage. These included Hamlet in 1878, and Much Ado About Nothing in 1882.

By the 1880s, lavish stage design was an increasingly important element of a successful stage production. As one commentator noted: 'In these present days of scenic display, when even no poor ghost can walk undisturbed by scientific satellites, lime-lights, mirrors and the like, the Scene painter is a far more important person in the theatre than the Tragedian'. (Life and Writings of T.W. Robertson, by R. Edgar Pemberton, 1893).

After this design for The Mikado was first seen at London's Savoy Theatre, 1885, one critic noted 'the beautiful pictures of Japan from the brush of Mr Hawes Craven', saying that audiences should be grateful 'for being translated from the terrible land of fogs to the sunny landscapes of Japan'. (Quoted in the Pall Mall Gazette, 16 March 1885).

Physical description

Design for the setting of Act I of The Mikado, showing a Japanese-style pagoda stage left, trees stage right and steps centre back with a vista of a lake beyond.

Place of Origin

London (painted)


1885 (painted)


Craven, Hawes, born 1837 - died 1910 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour and bodycolour over pencil on drawing board


Height: 36.7 cm, Width: 53.8 cm

Object history note

Designed by Hawes Craven (1837-1910) for the original production of The Mikado by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan at The Savoy Theatre, 14 March 1885.

Descriptive line

Mikado - Act II, first production, Savoy Theatre

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

Reference to the setting by Hawes Craven in a review of The Mikado from The Globe newspaper, 16 March 1885:
'The action takes place in the town of Titipu, and on the first rising of the curtain hearty applause was elicited by Mr. Hawes Craven's picture of the 'Court-yard of Ko-Ko's official residence', with a Japanese landscape beyond, and the courtyard occupied by a number of Japanese grandees attired in gorgeous robes'.

Reference in the review in The Observer, 16 March 1885:
' A handsomer and more telling stage picture than that disclosed in the courtyard of Ko-Ko's official residence can hardly be imagined. Everything looks as solid and real as do the highly-finished models by which alone we most of us know what Japanese architecture and Japanese figures are like'

Labels and date

British Galleries:

The Japanese craze spread to the theatre and its most famous production was Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado', the success of which did much to popularise the image of Japan. The costumes were authentically researched and many were made from Japanese fabric supplied by Liberty's. Gilbert used a Japanese setting to deliberately poke fun at British life and institutions. [27/03/2003]


Watercolour; Gouache; Pencil


Entertainment & Leisure; Designs; British Galleries

Production Type



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.