Oliver Messel: Wake Up and Dream - Theatre, Art and Society

Image Credit: Oliver Messel photographed by James de Vries

University of Bristol Theatre Collection, 21 Park Row, Bristol, BS1 5LT

0117 331 5045
[email protected]

Thursday 22 November 2018 – Monday 01 April 2019
Opening Hours: See website http://www.bristol.ac.uk/theatre-collection/

Wake Up and Dream captures the romance and imagination behind one of the twentieth centuries brightest theatrical stars, lifting the lid on Oliver Messel’s personal archive. This fascinating exhibition encompasses the magical worlds of theatre, ballet, opera and film as well as a host of artistic practice from portraiture to architecture, to textiles and interior design, featuring costumes, designs, artwork, letters, photography and more, enchanting audiences young and old.

Drawing on the richness of both the archive and Messel’s life and work, Wake Up and Dream introduces visitors to Messel’s family and friends, featuring intimate family photographs that capture the hallowed youth of a myriad of characters that populated the day-to-day of one of London’s ‘Bright Young Things’, including Cecil Beaton, Noel Coward and Katharine Hepburn.

Turning the spotlight on each aspect of his prolific career, different art forms are brought to life including his ingenuity as a costume designer with a headdress fashioned from twisted wire pendants and painted paper worn by Vivien Leigh in George Cukor’s 1946 wartime production of Caesar and Cleopatra. Also on display is an original ballet costume made from delicate mauve and pale blue tulle and appliquéd dark green velvet leaves, from the much-lauded ballet of The Sleeping Beauty, and an array of accompanying designs and set pieces.

We are led from the world of stage and film, to sidestep through Messel’s life-long pursuit of modelling and mask-making, with forays into textiles and illustration, with objects on display including one of his enchanting monkeys, originally used as a promotional prop for Sekers Fabrics. Covering the latter but no less productive stages of his life are a number of architectural drawings and interior designs, brought to life with colour photographs in faded tropical hues, exploring Messel’s time in Barbados.

As well as telling Messel’s story through an array of original archival items, the exhibition also includes a pilot version of a new work by live artist Tom Marshman, which plays with Messel and Vagn’s love of lavish dining through the interactive installation ‘The Caviar Outlook. Alongside this sits a collaborative installation devised by paper-based artist Diana Beltran Herrera, evoking Messel’s love of fanciful floral motifs.

Touching upon a wealth of materials and weaving a rich tapestry of stories Wake Up and Dream embraces the huge variety of Messel’s creative endeavours, detailing the magic and mastery of an artist whose all-encompassing vision and imagination can be felt running throughout all aspects of his making, whether creating fleeting fantasies or casting his ideas in paint and stone.


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