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Thomas Osborne Robinson

Thomas Osborne Robinson OBE (1904-1976) was a theatrical designer based in Northampton. He was inspired to become a scenery and costume designer when in 1921 (aged 17) he saw Diaghilev’s Russian ballet ‘The Sleeping Princess’, with scenery and costumes by Leon Bakst. He trained at Northampton School of Art alongside G.H.B. Holland. From 1928 to 1975 he was scenic designer and later Head of Design for Northampton Repertory Theatre, based at the Royal Theatre. He designed more than 3,000 sets and thousands of costumes for them. In 1937 he designed the set and costumes for Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet at the Old Vic, produced by Tyrone Guthrie. He also designed the set and costumes for Richard III at the Old Vic that year, and was offered a permanent post at the Old Vic by Lillian Bayliss, which he did not accept. In the 1930s-40s he designed sets and costumes for a number of productions in Stratford, including Macbeth and As You Like It. In the 1950s-60s he designed productions and murals for universities in the USA, including Vanderbilt University, Tennessee; Howard Payne College, Texas; and Stanford University, California. He was Chairman of the Association of Stage Designers in 1949-51; a member of the Arts Council Drama Panel in 1967-9; and Chairman of the Friends of Northampton Museums and Art Gallery in 1955-76. In 1969 he was awarded an OBE for services to arts. He lived on Derngate in Northampton.

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Kenneth Gilbert as King Lear, Royal Theatre, Northampton, 1965
A watercolour measuring 18¾” x 12¾”. Signed Osborne Robinson and inscribed ‘Every inch a king’. Inscribed on mount: ‘Kenneth Gilbert as King Lear, Royal Theatre, Northampton, 1965’. Inscribed verso: ‘For Kenneth Gilbert, from Tom OR, Northampton, May 22, 1965. “Robes and furred gowns” do not ‘hide’ greatness.’

The Subject
Costume design for Act IV, Scene VI of Shakespeare’s King Lear…

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…The humbled Lear, dressed in wild flowers, declares to the blind Gloucester that he is ‘every inch a king’. Osborne Robinson’s dedication verso to the actor Kenneth Gilbert is a reference to Lear’s words ‘Robes and furred gowns hide all’ in the same scene.

Tinkers, County Wicklow, Ireland
A watercolour measuring 17½” x 20¾”. Signed T. Osborne-Robinson. Faded label verso: ‘Tinkers, Co. Wicklow’.

The Subject
A red gipsy caravan and company cross a viaduct over a ravine, with craggy mountains looming behind them.