Loudon Sainthill 1919-1969

Loudon Sainthill

Loudon Sainthill

In Britain in 1949, Robert Helpmann commissioned Sainthill to design the ballet Ile des Sirènes, which he and Margot Fonteyn took on tour.

Sainthill contributed decorations and illustrations for a number of books.

He died on 9 June 1969, aged 50. He is buried in the churchyard at Ropley in Hampshire. The elegant headstone reads simply ‘Artist’.

 

Sainthill and Miller returned to Britain in 1949. There Robert Helpmann commissioned Sainthill to design the ballet Ile des Sirènes, which he and Margot Fonteyn took on tour. This led to Sainthill’s first major commission, Michael Benthall’s production of The Tempest at Stratford-upon-Avon. From then on Sainthill designed an average of four productions a year – opera, dance, drama, revue, pantomime, musicals, films – for directors such as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward, Tony Richardson, Joseph Losey, Wolf Mankowitz and Robert Helpmann – nearly 50 major projects. He even recreated the rich flamboyance of British music hall for a series of nostalgic shows at the Prince Edward Theatre. Three of the musicals he designed were reproduced by J.C. Williamson’s in Australia: Sail Away (sets and costumes, 1963), Half a Sixpence (costumes, 1967) and Canterbury Tales (costumes, 1969). His Canterbury Tales designs won him a Tony Award when the show played on Broadway.

Sainthill contributed decorations and illustrations for a number of books, including The Devil’s Marchioness (1957), the Folio Society’s King Richard II (1958) and Tiger at the Gates (1959); there were also several publishing collaborations with Harry Tatlock Miller: Royal Album (1951), Elizabeth I – Undoubted Queen (1958) and Churchill – The Walk With Destiny (1959). In the mid 1960s Sainthill taught design at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.

Sainthill had just completed his designs for the dream sequence in Anthony Newley’s film Can Hieronymous Mirkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? when he suffered a heart attack. He died on 9 June 1969, aged 50. He is buried in the churchyard at Ropley in Hampshire. The elegant headstone reads simply ‘Artist’.

A 1973 exhibition of Sainthill’s designs helped raise money for the Loudon Sainthill Memorial Scholarship Trust, which Harry Tatlock Miller established to commemorate his partner. The Trust endows an annual travelling scholarship of up to $12,000 for young Australian theatre designers. Miller died in 1989 and the Trust is now administered by NIDA. Winners include Stephen Curtis, Catherine Martin, Angus Strathie, Kim Carpenter and Dale Ferguson.

More than 800 examples of Sainthill’s work are held in the National Gallery in Canberra. He is also represented in several state galleries, and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. On the initiative of designer and festival director John Truscott, a major retrospective of his work was included in the 1991 Melbourne International Festival of the Arts.

Frank Van Straten, 2007

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Biographical references

Harry Tatlock Miller and Bryan Robertson: Loudon Sainthill, Hutchinson, 1973
Sally O’Neill: ‘Loudon Sainthill’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, Melbourne University Press
Loudon Sainthill Retrospective, catalogue for the Westpac Gallery exhibition curated by David Williams, Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, 1991