A CELEBRATION OF OLIVER MESSEL
Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
Oliver Messel - painter, interior designer, set and costume creator - caused a sensation in the 1930’s by pioneering a white-on-white stage and costume design for the opera Helen. White had never been used in stage (or decoration) before and this inspired a fashion for white home interior design which arguably led to the evolution of clean, minimalism that we see today.
Born in London in the early 1900’s, Messel trained as a painter in the 1920’s - with great friend and rival Cecil Beaton - but started his life in theatre design by creating masks for Zephyr and Flore for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes.
In contrast to the white-on-white look of the 1930’s, one of his most famous productions was Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ in 1946, which was a breath-taking showcase of fantasy, opulence and colour in a time of austerity and rationing. With barely any access to materials, Messel created magnificent costumes from little pieces of parachute silk, dis-used military canvas, domestic brushes, sellotape and sweet papers.
In 1953 Messel was commissioned to create two suites at London’s Dorchester Hotel, in celebration of the Queen’s Coronation. The Suites, called the Penthouse Pavilion and the Oliver Messel Suite, remain intact to this day.
For more information on Oliver Messel, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ programme features an interview with his nephew, Thomas Messel.
Thomas Messel has also edited and illustrated a book of work called ‘Oliver Messel: In the Theatre of Design.’
In addition, The V&A will be hosting a study day exploring the career of Oliver Messel on Saturday 4 February. Click here to book tickets.