Theatre Costume Designs: Percy Anderson, Attilio Comelli & Wilhelm

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This collection comprises fabulous original theatrical costume designs by influential designers Percy Anderson (1851-1928), Attilio Comelli (1858-1925) and 'Wilhlem' William Charles Pitcher (1858-1925). Designs such as these are invaluable artefacts of the Edwardian era and the history of stage production. Edwardian musical comedy was immensely popular - and captured the optimism, energy and good humour of the new century as well as providing comfort during the First World War. Produced in an age before mass photography, these colour designs form the only remaining record of the costumes which made up these productions. Much of Anderson’s and Comelli’s work is now in international public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, National Library of Australia and The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Percy Anderson (1851-1928)

Percy Anderson had private means and was part of a wealthy artistic and bohemian circle, which included Lord Ronald Gower, the courtier Alec Yorke and Charles Hamilton Aide. Anderson has been described as ‘lover’ of the novelist Hugh Walpole and through him met the novelist Joseph Conrad, whose portrait Anderson painted (now in the National Portrait Gallery, London).

Percy Anderson designed the costumes for all the original productions of the Savoy Operas and continued to design costumes for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, as well as for The Royal Opera House and Broadway amongst others. His design work was particularly innovative and has influenced many future designers in England as well as the United States. He thoroughly researched the period of the play to inform his design choices, sharing his research in numerous articles and being the first costume designer to define elements such as line, colour and texture.

Attilio Comelli (1858-1925)

Attilio Comelli (born Attilio Giuseppe de Comelli von Stuckenfeld) was an Italian designer of wealthy ancestry who came to London in the late 19th century. In the 1890s he was appointed house designer to the Royal Opera House and was responsible for providing the costumes for the first London performances of many operas. He quickly established himself as one of the most prolific designers for the London stage and worked as Artist in Chief at both the Alhambra and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and also produced designs for some of the Savoy operas.

'Wilhlem' William Charles Pitcher (1858-1925)

William Charles Pitcher (Wilhelm) was one of the most prolific stage designers of his day, working on nearly 200 productions. For a period of twenty years at the turn of the century he worked in all but name as artistic director of ballet at the Empire Theatre, London - writing and choreographing ahead of similar concepts by the great choreographer Michael Forkine at the Diaghilev ballet.

Wilhelm benefitted from a highly developed sense of the overall stage picture, so that all elements of costume, stage set and choreography would be effective and harmonious. He had great taste and strong attention to detail. He always used the finest materials and had a great understanding of texture. He like to embellish his designs with silver and gold, brocades, beads, and jewels.

The Times newspaper wrote that ‘Wilhelm excelled especially in rendering the spirit and detail of historical periods, but he had also an amusing skill in turning modern costumes to his fantastic purposes.... to his imaginative gifts he added remarkable precision and firmness in execution and great ingenuity in the treatment of colour.’ He was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1920.

Much of Wilhlem’s work is held in public collections internationally and does not often come on to the open market. His designs are in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, National Gallery of Australia, and The McNay Art Museum, amongst others.