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Not currently on display at the V&A

Theatre Design

1843 (made)
Place of origin

One of a large collection of assorted designs for the theatre

Object details

Object type
Materials and techniques
Brief description
Backcloth probably representing a distant view of Baghdad, in "Oberon." (produced at Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, March 13 1843.) One of a large group of designs for theatre scenery, backcloths, etc. made in London between 1830-50.
Physical description
One of a large collection of assorted designs for the theatre
  • Height: 20.5in
  • Width: 25in
Object history
This is part of a collection comprising a model theatre and accompanying cut-out scenery and figures (E.2086 to 2717-1927). It was acquired by the V&A’s Prints and Drawings department in 1927. The scenery and figures could be assembled to recreate scenes from a number of named plays that were popular on the London stage in the 19th century. Many of these productions had scenery designed and painted by the Grieve family. Three generations of the family (John Henderson Grieve (1770-1845), his sons Thomas (1799-1882) and William (1800-1844), and Thomas’s son, Thomas Walford Grieve (1841-1899)) were scenic artists and were famous for the quality of their painting. Because of this apparent link with the Grieves, on acquisition in 1927 it was identified as a working collection used in the Grieve family workshop and a rare example of a 19th-century stage design archive.

The collection was subsequently transferred to the Theatre Museum (now T&P) as the Grieve family archive. A major examination by T&P staff in 2014 raised doubts about the original identification. The Grieves were highly regarded for the realism of their stage pictures which was the result of detailed research, but the model pieces for some of the historic dramas, noticeably Shakespeare’s Richard III, displayed inaccurate heraldry and had a child-like quality. As the project progressed, it became clear that this was not a collection of traditional scene designs. Hand-coloured topographical prints were pasted on to the backdrops and toy theatre figures had been cut out and painted to represent characters in the plays. The collection also contained metal rods, of the type traditionally used in toy theatre performances.

T&P has now concluded that this is a large personal collection created for home entertainment, consisting of an elaborate and expensively appointed model theatre with the scenery and figures required to recreate some of the major productions seen on the Victorian stage, including Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, The Winter’s Tale and Richard III. Some of the productions represented were designed by the Grieves, so the scenery in the model may be based on the Grieves’ stage work but it was not created in advance of a production as part of the design process.

The collection was not purchased by the V&A as the work of the Grieves. The speculative identification was made by a staff member who compiled a report for the V&A’s acquisitions committee in 1927. The collection was bought from A.W. Little, who appears to have been a dealer. There are no further details of the provenance.
Bibliographic reference
Accession number

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Record createdJune 30, 2009
Record URL
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