Costume designs for Cochenille, Spalanzani and Guests from 'The Tales of Hoffmann', State Opera of South Australia 1982

Characters and productions come alive through design.  

Our new Collection-in-Focus exhibition highlights the work of Melbourne-born painter and designer Kenneth Rowell (1920-1999). He lived and worked as an artist and theatre designer in London from 1952, frequently returning to work in Australia until 1982 when he moved back to Melbourne. 

Rowell’s costume design archive comprises of about 1,400 designs for costumes and sets, as well as notebooks, sketchbooks, programs and photographs. It documents 87 productions he worked on between 1943 and 1993, often in collaboration with his wife, Victoria, who painted the fabric of his costumes.  

While Rowell almost always designed both costume and set designs for a production, this exhibition showcases a selection of hand-drawn costume designs, as well as other items that give us a sense of his life in the theatre, who he was as an artist and the vast scope of theatre productions he was involved with in his lifetime. 

This exhibition can be seen in the Library’s Treasures Gallery from Wednesday 29 June. Entry to the Gallery is free and no bookings are required. 

Kenneth Rowell: Designer for the Stage was curated by Dr Susannah Helman, National Library Curator of Rare Books and Music.  

Listen to an interview with Kenneth Rowell from the Library's Esso Performing Arts collection. 

Image at top: Kenneth Rowell, Costume designs for Cochenille, Spalanzani and Guests (detail), The Tales of Hoffmann, State Opera of South Australia 1982, Kenneth Leslie Rowell Costume Design Archive (Pictures), nla.cat-vn6938134