Exhibition: Portraits by Oliver Messel

Self portrait by Oliver Messel

Oliver Messel was a world renowned designer, enjoying great success predominantly in the theatre. Nymans' new exhibition examines his lesser known talent as a portrait painter, with a unique collection of portraits and archive material, including loans from the Bristol Theatre archive, Rupert Maas Gallery and members of the Messel family.

The gallery at Nymans
The gallery at Nymans
The gallery at Nymans

Exhibition open from Saturday 20 January until Sunday 3 June 2018. 

'Portraits by Oliver' includes intimate portraits of friends and family members including Oliver's sister, Anne, Countess of Rosse.  The exhibition also features portraits Oliver painted during the time he spent living in Barbados in the 1960s. 

In 1922, at the age of 18, Oliver left Eton to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. There followed an apprenticeship to John Wells, a well-known portrait painter and, in Wells' studio in Abbey Road, Oliver's lifelong love affair with portraiture really began. 

" I love the human face...to me, there's endless variety and scope in painting people's faces. "
- Oliver Messel

A successful career in the theatre diverted Oliver from his original calling. He began by making beautiful and elaborate masks that he and his friends would wear at  fashionable costume parties. In 1925, theatre impresario and producer, Charles B. Cochran commissioned Oliver to make masks for his next production. Before long, he was designing sets and costumes and gaining a reputation in the theatrical world.

Oliver Messel at Maddox
Oliver Messel at Maddox
Oliver Messel at Maddox

Oliver had a glittering career, creating designs for theatre, opera, ballet and film. By the 1940s, he was the highest paid stage designer to date and was internationally famous. His style was intensely theatrical; oozing ‘poetic glamour of bewitchment and enchantment’ (Sarah Woodcock, Oliver Messel; In the Theatre of Design).

Natalie Paley painted by Oliver Messel
Natalie Paley painted by Oliver Messel
Natalie Paley painted by Oliver Messel

By the late 1950s, Oliver’s theatre commitments were decreasing. Seeking another creative outlet, he returned to his first love of painting. He worked prolifically, preparing some 50 paintings for exhibitions in New York in 1959, London in 1962 and Barbados in 1963. 

Oliver Messel
Oliver Messel
Oliver Messel

Thomas Messel

Thomas Messel, author of "Oliver Messel in the Theatre of Design", joins us to give a lecture on the life and work of his uncle

Thomas Messel, author of: 'Oliver Messel: A Life in Theatre & Design' joins us on April 10 to give a lecture on the life and work of his uncle. The lecture will be accompanied by images that chronicle a unique and, until now, largely overlooked oeuvre that continues to influence the worlds of interior design, architecture, fashion and stage. Please book your place on 01444 405250. Tickets are priced at £15. 11am - 12pm.

Gallery open from 11am with last admission 30 minutes before closing.