Isabel Lambert Design Collection

Design for 'Tiresias'. Image © Warwick Llewellyn Nicholas

This collection of designs contains examples of all Isabel Lambert Rawsthorne’s work for The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera, from 1951 to 1961. It also includes examples of Lambert’s paintings and drawings of The Royal Ballet in rehearsal.

In 2012 The New Art Gallery in Walsall curated an exhibition from the material that remained with the estate to mark the centenary of Isabel Rawsthorne’s birth.  This forms the basis of a current Royal Opera house exhibition alongside a selection of the works given to the Royal Opera House in 2008.  This is the first time the works have been displayed in London since 1998.

Isabel Lambert Rawsthorne neé Nicholas was born on 10 July 1912.  She trained at the Liverpool School of Art and won a scholarship for life study to the Royal Academy in London.  She then studied at the Académie de la Grand Chaumière in Paris and was sculptor Jacob Epstein’s studio assistant from 1932/4.  She married journalist Sefton (Tom) Delmer in 1936.  Her artist circle included André Derain, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon.  Isabel had a vibrant personality and striking good looks and was seen as a muse by her fellow artists many of whom tried to capture her unique qualities in paintings and sculptures.

‘3 Aspects of Chloë’, charcoal, watercolour on board (early 1960’s). Isabel Lambert Collection, ROH Collections © Warwick Llewellyn Nicholas

Isabel got to know Constant Lambert, composer and Founder Music Director of The Royal Ballet, while he was in Paris on tour with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later The Royal Ballet, in 1946. They married a year later and through her connection with Lambert, Isabel began to design at the Royal Opera House.In 1951 she was asked to design the set and costumes for a new ballet Tiresias with choreography by Frederick Ashton, Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, and a commissioned score by Constant Lambert. Following this Isabel was invited to design the sets and costumes for a new production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra for the Covent Garden Opera Company, later The Royal Opera, which had its first performance in 1953. The production was very successful and remained in the repertory of The Royal Opera until its last revival in the 1987/88 season.  In 1953, Isabel also designed the one-act ballet Blood Wedding for Sadler’s Wells Ballet, based on the play by Federico García Lorca, with choreography by Alfred Rodrigues and music by Dennis ApIvor.

'Sibley in rehearsal' Charcoal on board. Isabel Lambert Collection, ROH Collections © Warwick Llewellyn Nicholas

Constant Lambert died in 1951 and subsequently in 1954 Isabel married the composer Alan Rawsthorne, who had been a friend to both of them and was on the music staff at the Royal Opera House.    In 1955 Alan Rawsthorne was commissioned to create the music for Ashton’s ballet Madame Chrysanthème and Isabel Rawsthorne to design the sets and costumes.  Isabel’s last work for the stage was Jabez and the Devil, commissioned by The Royal Ballet in 1961 with choreography by Alfred Rodrigues and music by Arnold Cooke. She died on 27 January 1992.