GSA exhibition of work inspired by early 20th-century costume designs

There's a new exhibition opening next month in the Reid Gallery at Glasgow School of Art in which  three women artists are showing work inspired by items among the Fashion & Textile holdings in the GSA's Archives & Collections. One of them is researching the work of Dorothy Carleton Smyth, who seems to have been a very lively and talented student. Her fascination with exotic clothes, combined with a love of the theatre, drew her into becoming involved with costume designs for many of the plays and masques that were produced within the School.  

 Dorothy Carleton Smyth and Alex Milne in fancy dress, GSAA.P.1136

Dorothy Carleton Smyth and Alex Milne in fancy dress, GSAA.P.1136

After leaving Glasgow School of Art in 1904, she worked as a costume designer for the Shakespearean producer F. R. Benson. For the next ten years, she continued to work as a theatre and costume designer for several companies in Glasgow, London and Europe including the Paris Opera. In 1914, she returned to Glasgow School of Art as head of Commercial Art, teaching miniature painting and the history of costume and armour. Her abilities in this role must have made a particularly strong impression on the then Director, Francis Newbery. In 1917, he described her as:

"the life and light of anything we may do here as regards the art of the drama. Her instincts are unerring, her taste pure and refined and her feelings shrink from every form of ill considered art”. 

She would have become the first female head of the Glasgow School of Art (and possibly of any art institution in the UK) in 1933 if she had not tragically died of a brain haemorrhage before the appointment could be made public. She was only 52. 

Hanneline Visnes has chosen to respond to several of her costume designs for Shakespeare's Macbeth and Wilde's Salome in a series of gouache drawings. She will show her own cast of characters in paintings alongside Dorothy's costume studies of theatrical casts. If you'd like to catch the exhibition, it's on from 23 June to 16 August 2018.