From Hollywood’s Golden Era to Glasgow: MGM backcloths take starring role in special stage presentation

Lost pieces of art from the golden age of Hollywood have been rediscovered and have a new home here at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Six original backdrops from the early Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) film archive have generously been donated to the RCS Scenic Art department from the Art Directors Guild.

These magnificent pieces were created by George Gibson, a Scot who trained in Glasgow before moving to Hollywood in the early 20th century to pioneer the new art form of painted film backdrops.

And they’ll be seen for the first time in the UK on Thursday 21 April in a special, one-off event.

The Lost Art of Hollywood, in the New Athenaeum Theatre, will be hosted by Scenic Art lecturer Gary Fry and Filmmaking lecturer Dr Andy Dougan who’ll share how these iconic pieces of film history were created and used on the big screen. Tickets are free and available from the RCS Box Office.

They’ll also pay tribute to Edinburgh-born George Gibson who was at the helm of the MGM scenic art studio from 1935 to 1969.

The hand-painted MGM backcloths were created between 1938 and 1952 for films Marie Antoinette, Madame Curie, The Skipper Surprised His Wife, The Light Touch and Washington Story.

They’re among more than 200 backdrops saved by the Art Directors Guild Backdrop Recovery Project to preserve the legacy of Hollywood’s motion picture scenic arts.

“The reason I approached the Backdrop Recovery Project was because of George,” said Gary Fry.

“George studied at The Glasgow School of Art and was a scenic apprentice at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow – both right on the doorstep of RCS – before he emigrated to California in 1930. His first film as the head of the scenic studio was The Wizard of Oz in 1939 and other major credits include An American in Paris and Brigadoon.

“Having the connection to our neighbourhood through George makes these beautiful backcloths even more special. It’s wonderful that we can honour George’s legacy and celebrate his talent at RCS while helping to preserve and share these incredible pieces of scenic art history.”

George Gibson

The backcloths are used as a teaching tool on the three-year Production Arts and Design degree programme, helping to inspire the next generation of scenic artists at RCS.

“The cloths are a great resource for teaching students about one point and aerial perspective, the use of a limited palette and economy of line and brushmarks.

“Some are excellent examples of illusionistic trompe l’oeil painting while others are translucent, which changes the scene from day to night using lighting.”

Book tickets for The Lost Art of Hollywood at the Box Office

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