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Set design - Set design for 'Richard III' by de Loutherbourg
  • Set design for 'Richard III' by de Loutherbourg
    Loutherbourg, Philip James de, born 1740 - died 1812
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Set design for 'Richard III' by de Loutherbourg

  • Object:

    Set design

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1772 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Loutherbourg, Philip James de, born 1740 - died 1812 (theatre designers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and ink and wash on paper, cut out and laid down on card mount

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Set design by Philip James de Loutherbourg for Act V Scene 2 of Shakespeare's play Richard III, possibly for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, 30 May 1772.

This sketch – one of three in the V&A’s collection – is inscribed as having been made by Philippe Jacques (known as Philip James) de Loutherbourg (1740–1812) for David Garrick’s production of Richard III, and later given to actor-manager Henry Irving in 1874 by ‘his old friend CR’ (most probably the author Charles Reade). They represent the initial stage in producing a scenic model.

When de Loutherbourg came to London in 1771 he was already a French Academician and painter to the French King. He had asked the Director of the Opéra-Comique in Paris to write him a letter of introduction to the great actor David Garrick (1717–1779): ‘Mr de Loutherbourg,’ it reads, ‘one of our greatest painters and a very agreeable man, intends for his pleasure to make an excursion to London . . . I advise you strongly to let him paint three small pictures for you, one a sea piece, another a landscape . . . and thirdly a battle scene. He is delightful in all three genres.’ Garrick initially employed de Loutherbourg to design the set for a pantomime, The Pigmy Revels, at Drury Lane Theatre. This proved a great success and de Loutherbourg received a permanent contract for the considerable salary of £500 per year.

Garrick was closely associated with the role of Richard III, in which he had triumphed at his first London appearance in 1741. The play stayed in his repertoire and was last performed by him in 1775, one year before his retirement. The three sketches relate to Act V of the play. In the first, prior to the battle, there are orderly rows of tents and a trestle bridge. The second – shown here – depicts the field after the battle, with an overturned wagon in the foreground. and an arched bridge in the background. The rows of tents can be seen in the far distance. The third sketch is more generalised, without either bridge or tents, showing the battlefield strewn with broken cart wheels, a discarded drum and an abandoned treasure chest. The bridges are ‘practical’, over which soldiers could march, reflecting contemporary stage practice.

After Garrick’s retirement from management, de Loutherbourg continued at Drury Lane under the management of Sheridan, but resigned in 1781 when threatened with a reduction in salary. His final theatre production was at the Covent Garden Theatre in 1785: the spectacularly successful Omai, or, a Trip Round the World, based on Captain Cook’s South Sea voyages.

Physical description

Set design for Act V Scene 2 of Richard III. Landscape with, in foreground, rocks and bushes to left, and, to right, a cloth draped on tree branches and an abandoned cart; in middle distance, centre, a stone bridge with arches, and tents beyond. Inscribed on mount.

Place of Origin

London (made)


ca. 1772 (made)


Loutherbourg, Philip James de, born 1740 - died 1812 (theatre designers)

Materials and Techniques

Pen and ink and wash on paper, cut out and laid down on card mount

Marks and inscriptions

'Original sketch made for "Richard the 3rd" by De Loutherbourg for Mr Garrick - the first practical Bridge. Presented to H. Irving Esq by his old friend CR July 1874.'
Inscription in ink on mount


Height: 22.8 cm, Width: 30.8 cm

Object history note

These collage sketches (S.1471 to S.1473-1986), reproduced in The Magazine of Art, had disappeared until a few years ago when the Theatre Museum acquired them. The three sketches are made of small drawings cut out and pasted on to a plain background. Dr. Richard Southern, working from the photographs in The Magazine of Art, thought these fragments had been assembled wrongly and reconstructed them into two scenes - one 'a rocky country with a repaired bridge in the middle distance ' and the other 'a camp scene with the skycloth missing.' Drawings of his reconstructions are reproduced in Shakespeare and the Artist, but further research is needed on these fragmentary sketches.

David Garrick saw that de Loutherbourg 'had the sum-total of Continental scenic resources in his ken' and employed him as his designer at Drury Lane. The innovations he brought to the theatre were the introduction of built pieces of scenery such as the bridge shown here and new methods of lighting the set with border battens so that the whole stage was lit, which meant that the actor was not forced to perform down stage in order to be seen. He also invented machines for making sound effects such as the crack of thunder, the boom of cannon and the lapping of waves. As a result he was the first to bring a kind of naturalism into the theatre.

Alexander Schouvaloff

This set design was possibly executed for a production of Shakespeare's play Richard III (adapted by Colley Cibber) by David Garrick at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, 30 May 1772. It can have been made no later than 1775 when Garrick made his final appearances as Richard.

Descriptive line

Set design by Philip James de Loutherbourg for Act V Scene 2 of Shakespeare's play Richard III, possibly for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, 30 May 1772

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

Schouvaloff, Alexander, "Theatre on Paper", The Drawing Center (New York, 1990)
pp. 58-61
Lawrence, W.J. "The Pioneers of Modern English Stage-Mounting: Phillipe (sic) Jacques de Loutherbourg, R. A.", The Magazine of Art, (London, 1895), pp. 172-7, ill. (a) p. 175, 177, 176
Rosenfeld, Sybil, "Theatre Notebook", vol. xix, (London, 1964-5), pp. 110-11
Merchant, Moelwyn, "Shakespeare and the Artist", (London, 1959), pp. 60-4


Ink; Paper (fiber product); Card


Drawing (image-making); Wash technique


Entertainment & Leisure; Theatre; Designs


Theatre and Performance Collection

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