The University of Texas at Austin

National Velvet

National Velvet

National Velvet

National Velvet (MGM 1944), snowy suburban home in the small town of Sewels in Sussex, England in the late 1920s

13’-11” x 9’-4”
Urie McCleary, Production Designer
Cedric Gibbons, Art Director
George Gibson, Scenic Art Supervisor
Scenic Art Attributed to: George Gibson, Clark Provins, Art Rider, Al Londraville, Duncan Spencer, John H. Coakely, Bill T. Smart, Gordon Butcher, Bob Oberbeck, Clem Hall

Our exhibition features two backdrops from MGM's classic and beloved film, National Velvet, which made twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor a star.   The first backdrop is set in the small town of Sewels in Sussex, England,  this scene occurs outside the Brown family residence. This backing offered a sense of place, distance, and depth and was among hundreds of backdrops from the MGM asset inventory repurposed in other films, also used in MGM's The Seventh Cross 1944.   

Our second backdrop features a romantic snow covered village 

This backdrop, selected for our U.T. collection for its exquisite use of color, exemplifies MGM's master colorist work, Art Glover Rider.  An established Plein air oil painter and painting companion to Spanish artist Anders Zorn, Rider is said to have, at times, pushed the use of color in the MGM backdrops to the extreme, where backings evolved from photo-realistic to romantic expressions. Note the violets in the snow's shadows, the pinks, the blues, and the color transitions across the buildings. 

From 1938-1968 George Gibson led the  MGM Scenic Art Studio. 
Gibson "created at MGM what was arguably the finest scene-painting studio in America. He convinced the studio heads to construct a new scenic building where all of the backings could be painted centrally on movable paint frames rather than on the fixed scaffolding of the various soundstages. Gibson hired and trained a new generation of artists such as Duncan Spencer, John Harold Coakley, Wayne Hill, and Leo Atkinson. He constructed a department from the ground up and looked for young art majors coming out of universities and art schools. Gibson encouraged these artists to continue their study of painting outside of the scenic studio, as he continued to work as a watercolorist." Isackes and Maness- The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop, Regan Arts 2016 

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