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

As part of our HLF 'Sharing the Messel Magic' project we staged two exhibitions, held at the Theatre Collection and the RWA between 2018-2019, exploring some of the different stories and objects found within the Archive.

Wake Up and Dream captured the romance and imagination of Oliver's life, encompassing 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.

Drawing on the richness of the Archive the exhibition introduced visitors to Oliver’s family and friends, featuring intimate snapshots that capture a myriad of characters from Hollywood to London’s ‘Bright Young Things’, including Katharine Hepburn, Cecil Beaton and Noel Coward. Turning the spotlight on each aspect of his prolific career, different art forms were 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 was an original ballet costume from the The Sleeping Beauty, and an array of accompanying designs and set pieces. The latter, but no less productive stages of his life, were represented through a number of architectural drawings and interior designs, brought to life with colour photographs in faded tropical hues, exploring Oliver’s time in Barbados.

As well as telling Oliver’s story through an array of original objects, the exhibition also included a new work by live artist Tom Marshman,exploring Oliver and his partner Vagn's love of lavish dining through the interactive audio installation The Caviar Outlook, which you can listen to on your right.

Included alongside The Caviar Outlook was the collaborative installation Oliver's Roses devised by paper-based artist Diana Beltran Herrera, evoking Oliver’s love of fanciful floral motifs. Created during a participatory workshop the work was made by a variety of hands from members of the public to Theatre Collection staff.

Featuring 150 objects from the Archive, Wake Up and Dream embraced the sheer variety of Messel’s creative endeavours, detailing the magic and mastery of an artist whose all-encompassing vision and imagination can be felt throughout his work, whether creating fleeting fantasies for the stage or casting his ideas in paint and stone.

To read the exhibition's interpretation and for a full list of exhibition objects, please download a PDF version of the catalogue‌ wake up and dream catalogue (PDF, 394kB). You can find out more about individual objects by searching for them using the catalogue numbers e.g. OHM/1/2/5, through the online catalogue.  

You can take a 360 degree exhibition tour including narrated interpretation and detailed images of individual items.

The accompanying exhibition Oliver Messel: Theatre and Beyond featured designs and artwork from Oliver's Archive as well as a number of portraits and costume designs from a private collection. Exploring Oliver's work beyond the theatre it introduced new audiences to the breadth of his artistic talents.

If you would like to find out more about these exhibitions please contact the Theatre Collection at theatre-collection@bristol.ac.uk

These resources are kindly supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

View a 360 degree virtual tour of our exhibition Wake Up and Dream: Oliver Messel - Theatre, Art and Society.

Download a copy of the Wake Up and Dream: Oliver Messel - Theatre, At and Society exhibition catlaogue wake up and dream catalogue (PDF, 394kB).

Listen to The Caviar Outlook an audio installation by Tom Marshman based on oral histories with Tommy Baptiste and Anthony Powell.

Oliver’s Roses
The installation Oliver’s Roses was designed by artist Diana Beltran Herrera. Made from paper, wire and glue, the work was inspired by the romantic recurrence of roses and flowers throughout the Archive.

You can return here to our Explore the Oliver Messel Archive pages.

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