Hunterian Unveils Stage and Screen Design Collection

Stage and Screen comprises private pieces spanning almost a hundred years of concept art for film, television and theatre.

By Louis Cammell

Edward Burra, Miracle in the Gorbals, design for front cloth, 1944. © The estate of Edward Burra, courtesy Lefevre Fine Art, London.

Never before seen in Scotland, The University of Glasgow’s The Hunterian is set to present Stage and Screen, a new exhibition showcasing the vast private collection of renowned Scottish designer James L Gordon. Gordon has spent the last four decades amassing pencil sketches, watercolours and collages for everything from Hammer Horror to Shakespeare.

Gordon is the interior designer behind the interiors of the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2, the Carlton Hotel in Cannes and the Café de la Paix in Paris, to name but a few. Starting with an impulse purchase of a Cecil Beaton costume design for the 1969 Broadway musical Coco, about the life of legendary designer Coco Chanel, his collection has since grown into a 5000-piece-strong material history of some of the 20th Century’s most unforgettable productions. 

Amongst them are works by such renowned artists as David Hockney and John Byrne, the latter an example of the focus on Scottish excellence that runs through the exhibition. Scottish painter Peter Howson features, alongside John Macfarlane who is considered one of Scotland’s great living artists and a source of great pride for the Glasgow School of Art, where he trained before going on to establish himself as a leading designer of opera and ballet internationally.

John Byrne, The Slab Boys: costume design for Lucille, 1978. © John Byrne. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2023.

Presented chronologically by decade from 1900 to the 1990s, the eclectic mix ranges from set designs for Hair, Cats and Little Shop of Horrors right up to costume designs for the likes of Hollywood royalty Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Arnold Schwarzenneger. Designs for live performers and musicians also feature prominently; from the instantly recognisable silhouettes of Mick Jagger and Elton John to the era-defining group uniforms of The Jackson Five and The Beatles. 

The exhibition coincides with the release of the Liverpudlian band’s newest and final single, Now and Then, which though not featured in the exhibition, serves to highlight the act’s enduring mark on the global cultural landscape.

Other cultural behemoths that continue today, which the collections spotlights at various stages of their journey, are Doctor Who – soon to enter what is unofficially its 40th season – and Eurovision, responsible for bringing ABBA to the world stage and thus kickstarting a phenomenon that has spawned not only two smash-hit movie musicals but a permanent live concert experience using ground-breaking motion capture technology. 

Arguably the defining feature of both Doctor Who and Eurovision is the outlandish attire that millions tune into see year-on-year, the eponymous Doctor endlessly regenerating into trend-bucking tailoring while Europe’s colourful pop amateurs often wear their countries’ colours with sequinned pride. Sight and Sound gives visitors a glimpse into the inception of such designs.

John Macfarlane, Bländwerk: costume design for Matamore, 1995. © John Macfarlane.

Also featured are works from British polymath Cecil Beaton, who won a total of three Oscars for his costume and art direction on My Fair Lady and Gigi, respectively. Far from being the only Oscar winner to appear, Gordon’s collection also includes costume designs for Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor was first nominated in 1958 for Raintree Country and again four more times between 1959 and 1967, losing out on the trophy for what many now consider to be her most iconic role in Tennessee Williams’s Cat On a Hot Tin Roof but winning twice for Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The exhibition looks to be the perfect thing for those with an interest in the behind the scenes of classic Hollywood, broadway musicals or cult television. The Hunterian is the oldest public museum in Scotland and this temporary exhibition is the latest addition to their impressive collections showcasing a range of items of historical interest in the arts, sciences and humanities. 


Stage and Screen is at the Hunterian Art Gallery from 10 November 2023 until 25 February 2024. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00am until 5.00pm. Entry is free.

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