In our previous blog, Mark promised to reveal details of an exciting discovery found in the Sadler's Wells Theatre Archive during listing and cataloguing of costume and set designs. I am now very pleased to share this news with our readers.
I have been tidying up the loose ends of the collection, looking at material that has either been put in the ‘too hard basket’ – items that don't slot easily into any obvious category - or files that were yet to be catalogued. Recently I turned my attention to set and costume designs awaiting listing and cataloguing, unaware of the surprise to come.
There are around five different series of set and costume designs in the archive and, while sorting through various items in this category, I was excited to discover that one set of costume designs was created by well-known British artist Graham Sutherland (1903-1980).
Sutherland was commissioned to design two backdrops and the costumes for Frederick Ashton's ballet The Wanderer, set to Schubert's piano sonata Fantasie in C major, Op. 15 ( D. 760) known as The Wanderer Fantasy. The Sadler's Wells Ballet production premiered on 27 January 1941 at the New Theatre in St Martin's Lane. The principle dancers included Robert Helpmann playing 'The Traveller’ and Margot Fonteyn playing the lead female role, with Pamela May and Michael Somes playing 'The Lovers'.
We hold 12 of the costume designs by Sutherland for the ballet. These are outlined in pencil or pen and painted with watercolour, and notated with remarks about the characters' costumes. Some come complete with fabric swatches attached and labelled from B. Burnet & Co, Covent Garden. The fabrics are particularly vibrant in colour – pinks, reds and oranges for the lead roles and dark-greens, greys, browns and black for the supporting dancers.
Unfortunately the archive doesn't possess any of the backdrop designs, or any colour reproductions. However, there is a painting held at the V&A upon which one of the backdrops is based, The Wanderer I (1940). The painting has oranges, yellows and browns dominating the work, so perhaps we can imagine how the back drops may have originally appeared.
The costumes were apparently not to everyone's taste but the backdrops were generally thought a great success. This was, as far as we are able to ascertain, Graham Sutherland's only sojourn into the world of theatre design and we are delighted to hold these items in our collection (S/SWT/2/10/6/1).
Islington Local History Centre