Bristol University gets £75k to catalogue Oliver Messel archive

Oliver Messel Image copyright Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University
Image caption Oliver Messel collaborated with actress Vivien Leigh on films such as Caesar and Cleopatra and the 1937 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream

A university has been given £73,000 in lottery funding to catalogue thousands of items belonging to designer Oliver Messel.

Mr Messel, who died in 1978, designed costumes for films including Romeo and Juliet (1936) and was the art director for Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

The archive of 75,000 items includes letters from John Gielgud and Vivien Leigh and photographs by Cecil Beaton.

The University of Bristol wants to make it available to the public.

Mr Messel was nominated for an Academy Award for his work as production designer for Suddenly Last Summer (1959).

The archive - acquired from his nephew - includes photographs, sketchbooks, costume and set designs, stage and film plans and a selection of plaster casts, masks and costumes.

Image copyright University of Bristol Theatre Collection
Image caption The archive includes letters from John Gielgud, Vivien Leigh and Michael Redgrave, photographs by Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson and Lord Snowdon and a Cleopatra mask from Anthony and Cleopatra
Image copyright University of Bristol Theatre Collection
Image caption The university said the archive offered an "unrivalled and very personal insight into Messel's incredible life"

Jo Elsworth, from the university, said it was a "unique record" of "one of history's greatest theatre designers".

"The archive arrived with us contained in almost 100 boxes, none of them sorted, so it has been an incredible experience for us to open and discover their fabulous contents," she said.

"The next stage of the project is to catalogue and conserve the items and - make the archive available to the public."

Nerys Watts, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, said it was a "magical archive" and the funding would make sure this "remarkable man's story" was known to a wider audience.

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