The archive comprises approximately 730 small sheets of paper of various quality and type including letters, bills and used envelopes, featuring sketches by Edgar Hockley (1860-1938) of characters in costume, accessories, scenery, properties, wigs and headdresses in ink, graphite, watercolour, gouache and crayon from over 50 theatrical productions, almost all staged at London theatres between 1887 and 1923. Hockley appears to have sketched at more than one of Buffalo Bill’s London performances; at the opening of Parliament in 1905, and at unidentified variety venues including the Palace Theatre of Varieties. The types of performances he attended as evidenced by these sketches cover a wide range, but his taste ran to spectacular and colourful productions, especially those of Henry Irving, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and Frank Benson. Among the earliest drawings in this collection are those of Irving’s Macbeth at the Lyceum Theatre in 1888, and he clearly relished the scenic feast of Irving’s Dante which he sketched in 1903. Hockley also made tracings, and copied postcard portraits of leading actresses of the day including Sarah Bernhardt, Ada Rehan, and Ellen Terry, and of published photographs, such as a group photograph of members of the company of Richard II at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1903. His nude sketches show that he also copied classical sculpture or paintings, and display a confidence that may be evidence of sketching from life models during training as a wood engraver.
The majority of the sketches are inscribed by the artist in pen and ink or pencil with meticulous manuscript notes on colours and materials of the subjects depicted. The notes appear to have been an aide-memoire for the small colour and wash images on cartridge paper that Hockley would have executed subsequently, many of which have pin-holes in the corners indicating that they were pinned up. None of the sketches is signed but some include names of characters within the notes. The drawings were kept by Edgar Hockley in coarse handmade brown paper packets inscribed with the names of the production. Many were stored within these envelopes in sheets of folded paper occasionally inscribed with the date on which he saw the production. Over the years many of these sheets have been replaced in the wrong envelopes however, and although the current attributions have been researched as far as possible, there are still some unidentified drawings while others may still be misfiled or relate to productions for which there were no packets.