Art & Design in The British Film # 18 Oliver Messel

Continuing a series about Art Directors in the British film industry up to 1948, when the book containing these articles was published.

This chapter deals with Oliver Messel (1904 – 1978)

Messel was a Costume Designer and Art Director. He sometimes worked in the Art Department as well as being Production Designer for films. A large part of his life was occupied by his work in costume design for stage shows.

Messel was released from the Army to design the film of ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ for Gabriel Pascal. Co-operating on this gigantic production were John Bryan, who acted as Art Director translating Messel’s ideas on to the floor–Heckroth helping with the costumes and Bellan working out camera set-ups and working on continuity sketches-perhaps there were too many good cooks . . .

(Please click these thumbnail images to enlarge them.)

All images from Caesar & Cleopatra – 1945.

thumbnail of Caesar and Cleopatra

thumbnail of Caesar and Cleopatra

thumbnail of Caesar and Cleopatra

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OLIVER MESSEL’S name first came to the fore as the designer of costumes, masks and decor for Cochran’s Revue of 1926. The delicacy of his work charmed all who saw it.

The years that followed the 1914-18 war had little to offer in the way of art that was not either dull or forced-Messel and Rex Whistler brought freshness and delicacy into these surroundings, with just a reminiscence of the Baroque and the Rococo which made them seem friendly and familiar.

Messel made his masks with his own hands-and exquisite pieces of work they were-at the same time he was painting portraits and rapidly became much sought after.
Every year Messel was designing a new revue for Cochran and then in 1932 came his work for ‘The Miracle’ followed immediately by an offer from M.G.M. to undertake the decor and costumes for a big film production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in America.

The volume recording this production with reproductions of Messel’s work is now a rarity, and a good record of the fine work put into the production. After more London successes including the ballet of ‘Comus’, the war came . . .

Messel was released from the Army to design the film of ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ for Gabriel Pascal. Co-operating on this gigantic production were John Bryan, who acted as Art Director translating Messel’s ideas on to the floor–Heckroth helping with the costumes and Bellan working out camera set-ups and working on continuity sketches-perhaps there were too many good cooks . . . but when years later one surveys all the work put into this film one is sorry that the subtle charm of Messel’s designs were not used with greater appreciation by the producers, who it would seem always underestimate the intelligence and imagination of their audiences.

Messel is now engaged on another film entitled ‘The Queen of
Spades’ directed by Rodney Ackland.
Messel is not the sort of artist who can compromise with commercial vulgarity even when advertised in ‘artistic’ wrappings and he can therefore be a great asset to a new art.

(Excerpted from: “Art & Design In The British Film” A Pictorial Directory of British Art Directors and their work. Compiled by Edward Carrick, 1947 )

Other posts in this series

  1. Art & Design in The British Film # 1: W.C.Andrews
  2. Art & Design in The British Film # 2: Andre Andrejew
  3. Art & Design in The British Film # 3: Norman Arnold
  4. Art & Design in The British Film # 4: Wilfred Arnold
  5. Art & Design in The British Film # 5: Ferdinand Bellan
  6. Art & Design in The British Film # 6: Ralph Brinton
  7. Art & Design in The British Film # 7: John Bryan
  8. Art & Design in The British Film # 8 Edward Carrick
  9. Art & Design in The British Film # 9 Maurice Carter
  10. Art & Design in The British Film # 10: Douglas Daniels
  11. Art & Design in The British Film # 11: Cedric Dawe
  12. Art & Design in The British Film # 12: Roger Furse
  13. Art & Design in The British Film # 13: Hein Heckroth
  14. Art & Design in The British Film # 14: John Howell
  15. Art & Design in The British Film # 15: Laurence Irving
  16. Art & Design in The British Film # 16: Alfred Junge
  17. Art & Design in The British Film # 17 Vincent Korda
  18. Art & Design in The British Film # 18 Oliver Messel
  19. Art & Design in The British Film #19 Tom Morahan
  20. Art & Design in The British Film #20 C.P.Norman
  21. Art & Design in The British Film #21 Peter Proud
  22. Art & Design in The British Film #22 George Provis
  23. Art & Design in The British Film #23 Fred Pusey
  24. Art & Design in The British Film #24 David Rawnsley
  25. Art & Design in The British Film #25 - Michael Relph
  26. Art & Design in The British Film #26 - Paul Sherriff
  27. Art & Design in The British Film #27 - Wilfrid Shingleton
  28. Art & Design in The British Film #28 - Duncan Sutherland
  29. Art & Design in The British Film #29 – Alex Vetchinsky
  30. Art & Design in The British Film #30- Lawrence Paul Williams
  31. Art & Design in The British Film - The Last Chapter

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  1. By Designs For Cleopatra Xxviii Oliver on 30 May, 2012 at 10:00 am

    [...] Art & Design in The British Film # 18 Oliver Messel | Articles & Texticles This chapter deals with Oliver Messel – Messel was a . Messel was released from the Army to design the film of 'Caesar and Cleopatra' for Gabriel Pascal. All images from Caesar & Cleopatra – 1945. [...]

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