Edward Gordon Craig

It may not be immediately obvious, but the abstract pictures in the photographs dating from the early 1900s and created by Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966) are, in fact, designs for the theatre.

Craig began his career in the theatre as an actor, following in the formidable footsteps of his mother, the leading Shakespearian actress of her day, Dame Ellen Terry. To her dismay, he eventually abandoned acting in favour of theatre design and theoretical writing. However, it was in these areas that he would make a more lasting impression.

The fashion for theatre design in the early twentieth century was for elaborate and extravagant sets that tried to mimic reality. In contrast, Craig produced simple, yet striking, designs that were more symbolist and poetic in nature. One key element he used to achieve this effect was his use of lighting. Rather than using footlights, he placed the lighting in the ceiling. Another of his great innovations was to create a screen that changed and unfolded before the eyes of the spectator. As one commentator remarked he had "the power of conjuring up from nothing, before your eyes, that which amazes you."

In 1905 Craig published the influential booklet The Art of Theatre that was written in the form of a "Dialogue between a Director and a Playgoer." In this he argued that all aspects of a production should be guided by one man, the director, and that theatre should be considered an art form on the same level as painting, poetry and music. He also went on to found The Mask, the first theatrical journal of its time.

Despite Craig’s forward thinking ideas and breath taking designs, his work was embraced more widely in Europe than in Britain. His inability to compromise or work on any production in which he was not given full artistic control meant that he had great difficulty he securing funding for any of his projects and so, from the age of forty and for a further fifty years until his death, he produced little of note.

The book in the photographs was published in 1948 as part of the King Penguin Books series.

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