New exhibition shines a spotlight on stage and screen

Published: 23 October 2023

New exhibition presents a stunning selection of set and costume designs from a major private collection.

A new exhibition opening at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, this November, presents a stunning selection of set and costume designs from a major private collection.

Stage and Screen features works on paper from the James L Gordon Collection, on show in Scotland for the first time. Covering designs for theatre, film and television, this visually engaging exhibition will offer a rare glimpse into this unique personal collection of rich and diverse material.

With a few earlier exceptions, the James L Gordon collection comprises set and costume designs for British theatre productions from about 1900 to the 1990s, and British and American designs for film and television from the 1930s onwards. The designs are almost all two-dimensional: drawings, watercolours, paintings and collages, rather than three-dimensional models. The range of material is immense, embracing everything from Shakespeare to pantomime, opera to ballet, Hammer horror to Hollywood musicals and Doctor Who to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Spanning the whole of the 20th century, Stage and Screen includes works by leading artists such as Cecil Beaton and David Hockney and designs for famous productions including Oh! Calcutta!, Hair, Cats, Little Shop of Horrors and The Slab Boys. The exhibition also features costume designs for stars such as Rudolf Nureyev, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones.

Presented chronologically, by decade, the hundreds of works on display cover a wide range of social and cultural issues, highlighting the history of how they have been represented in the theatre and on screen.

As well as set designs by artists such as Patrick Caulfield, Edward Burra and Rex Whistler, the exhibition also features costume designs for performers and musicians, often instantly recognisable, including Liza Minelli, Elton John, The Jackson Five, Mick Jagger and The Beatles.

James L Gordon is originally from Scotland and his outstanding collection includes a strong representation of Scottish artists and designers including Peter Howson and John Byrne. Another outstanding living artist featured is John Macfarlane, who trained at the Glasgow School of Art and has since established an international reputation as a designer of opera and ballet.

James L Gordon had a distinguished career in interior design, working on the interiors of the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2, the Carlton Hotel in Cannes and the Café de la Paix in Paris. His impressive collection began by chance, thanks to an impulse purchase of a Cecil Beaton costume design for the 1969 Broadway musical Coco, based on the life of fashion designer Coco Chanel. This first purchase of a work of art started a passion for collecting that he has pursued for over forty years. The result is a collection that now comprises about 5000 works, which have strong personal appeal for him.

This huge variety is certain to delight anyone with an interest in the world of entertainment and performance.

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.

Further Information

For further information contact:

Joseph Sharples, Curator of Mackintosh Collections and Applied Art, The Hunterian

For images contact:

Harriet Gaston, Communications Manager, The Hunterian

Notes to Editors

The Hunterian

The oldest public museum in Scotland, with collections spanning arts, sciences and humanities, The Hunterian is at the forefront of university museums around the world. Since it opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, The Hunterian has been an invaluable academic and community resource and in years to come, The Hunterian is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences.

As a university gallery and museum, The Hunterian creates space for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. The Hunterian collection’s Enlightenment history made a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western modernity and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. The founding collection came through the bequest of Dr William Hunter (1718-1783) and since The Hunterian opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, the collections have been developed in ways that reflect our city’s deep relationship with empire, transatlantic slavery, colonialism and migration. 

The Hunterian cares for some Scotland’s finest collections that cover subjects as diverse as the history of medicine, zoology and art. The whole collection is ‘Recognised’ as nationally significant in Scotland and includes outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; vast natural and life science collections; scientific instruments used by James Watt, Joseph Lister and Lord Kelvin; one of the world’s greatest collections of coins and medals and objects and belongings brought to Glasgow from around the world during hundreds of years of trade, empire, exploitation and migration. 

The Hunterian is also home to one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland and features works by James McNeill Whistler, the Glasgow Boys and Scottish Colourists, the largest single holding of the work of artists Margaret MacDonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, along with The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from their Glasgow home. The Hunterian has also developed an important collection of works by leading contemporary artists including Christine Borland, Lucy Skaer and Adam Pendleton.

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First published: 23 October 2023