Grieve Family Collection of Theatre Designs

Scope and Content

The Grieve collection comprises: 655 original scene designs (and 3 folders of slides), including panoramas and perspective 'cut-outs' in watercolours and wash by members of the Grieve family, covering performances of various revival productions of Shakespeare plays, along with works by Isaac Pocock, M.R.Lacy, Thomas Otway, Michael Costa, Samuel Beazley, Douglas Jerrold, G.Meyerbeer, Charles A.Somerset, Edward Fitzball, Rossini and others, staged at the Theatre Royal (Drury Lane), the Theatre Royal (Covent Garden) and Her Majesty's Theatre, 1813-1857.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Henderson Grieve was born in 1770, of Scottish origin, and came originally from Perth. He worked as a scene-painter in minor London theatres and from 1794 was also employed by Richard Brinsley Sheridan at Drury Lane. By 1817, he was working in theatres in Covent Garden where he remained apart from two spells at Drury Lane from 1835 to 1839 and in the two years before his death. Thomas Grieve, the elder son of John Henderson Grieve, was trained by his father and worked with him at Covent Garden and elsewhere from 1817. From 1846 to 1859, he worked at Drury Lane, Covent Garden and at Her Majesty's Theatre, but is perhaps most notable for his leading role he played among the team of scene-painters who supplied Charles Keen's regime at the Princess' Theatre, Oxford Street, from 1850 to 1859, particularly in the Shakespearean revivals of that period. Thomas Grieve also painted famous exhibition hall panoramas with William Telbin and others, including The Overland Mail (to India) from 1852, which is perhaps his most reknowned. He died in Lambeth in April 1882. William Grieve, the younger son of John Henderson Grieve, was born in 1800 and followed the same career course as his older brother by working with his father. However, from 1833, after a family engagement at the King's Theatre (later Her Majesty's) he stayed on as head scene painter until his early death in 1844. He was famous for his moonlight scenes and was reputedly the first scenic artist to be called before the curtain to receive the applause of the audience for his contribution to Robert le Diable at the King's Theatre in 1832. Unlike his father and brother, he also won acclaim as an easel artist, exhibiting landscapes and architectural views at the Royal Academy and elsewhere in the 1830s. He died in November 1844 in Lambeth leaving a large family. Thomas Walford Grieve, the son of Thomas Grieve and the grandson of John Henderson Grieve, was born in 1841 and trained and worked with his father from around 1862. He worked at Covent Garden with him and also at the Lyceum. He never achieved the acclaim received by his father or his older contemporary William Roxby Beverley, and died (apparently of cancer) after a long illness which for some years previously had forced him to give up work.


The designs are listed in running numerical order.

Access Information

Access to this collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the supervised environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room. Please contact the University Archivist for details. NB Researchers are strongly advised to consult the slides before ordering originals.

Acquisition Information


Other Finding Aids

A basic handlist is available for consultation, listing each painting.

Archivist's Note

Separated Material

The Theatre Museum holds model pieces (scenery, properties and figures) made by John Henderson Grieve and his sons Thomas and William Grieve. Their collection also contains designs for Covent Garden productions of Henry VIII (1831), Le Prophete (1849) and Oberon (1826). (Reference: THM/127)

Conditions Governing Use

Materials cannot be photocopied, although photographic copies are possible. Please consult reading room staff for further details.

Custodial History

The Grieve collection was purchased with a grant by the University of London Expert Advisory Committee on Theology, Arts and Music, by Jacob Isaacs of King's College, London, who bought the paintings from a 'junk shop' around 1939, on the condition the collection was donated to the University of London Library on completion of his research. The collection was donated around 1943. Conservation of the collection was undertaken in 1988 with grant funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the British Library under the auspices of the Wolfson Foundation and Family Trust, which included the rehousing and remounting of the paintings. The original mounts have been maintained within the collection for research purposes.