Friday, July 3, 2020

Born Today June 3: Hawes Craven


For a person only involved in only one short silent film, Hawes Craven warrants a larger write up here than it would seem that he would.  Craven was a British theatrical scene painter in Victorian London; and not just any scene painter at that--he's been called simply the best; certainly he was the pinnacle of realistic scene painting. He was born Henry Hawes Craven Green on this day in Leeds, England into a theatrical family. His father was importantly involved in the ancient and evolving art of pantomime, and his mother was an actress and published writer. He appeared on stage with his father at the very early age, where his name was shortened to "Hawes Craven." It stuck and stayed with him for the rest of his professional life. It was soon discovered that his real talent lie in drawing, which he displayed advanced ability in from a young age. He was summarily able to attend school in London and go on to an apprenticeship with one of the country's premiere set designers of his time: John Gray. Eventually he would get his first solo work, and he famously worked in the Drury Lane in the earliest portion of his career: both in pantomimes at the royal theater there and on opera sets at Covent Garden. He then went on to set designs for several large stage productions and eventually was awarded for working his way up through the ranks with position of principle scene painter at the Lyceum Theatre. He became a specialist in designing scenes for staging of Shakespeare plays; later on he also worked as a senior scene designer for opera's at the famed Savoy (this is when he worked for the larger than life Richard D'Oyly Carte). He lived through the era of gas lit theaters and with the coming of The Savoy in the 1880's, he then found himself working in a theater lit for the first time by electricity. These new working conditions required changes to set painting and design--a feat that he reportedly handled easily (no small task!).  At the Savoy, he was the principle painter for their famous staging of Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas (he also painted all of the scenery for the opera Ivanhoe by Arthur Sullivan--a sketch for can be seen below--staged at the Royal English Opera House in 1891). His last work was at Her Majesty's Theater and the Garrick respectively. In 1905 he was also elected president of the Scenic Artists' Association. Craven only live a further five years after this, succumbing to bronchitis 19 days after his 73rd birthday. He is buried at the Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries (they are adjacent, and are basically one cemetery at this point--I am not sure which one contains his grave); this is one of the very large resting places in the greater London area that are not part of the seven famous cemeteries known as the "magnificent seven." Below are some examples of his sketches used for set design and at least one painting (all are retrieved from Wiki sites). 

As far as film is concerned, as mentioned above, he was only involved the production of one film:  King John in 1899.  This is the oldest Shakespeare adaptation to have any surviving materials, and may possibly be the very first filmed adaptation of Shakespeare (owed to the the fact that the existence of Macbeth supposedly released in 1898, cannot be proven to have existed at all at this time). The original film was filmed in three parts, with Hawes' work coming in the section labeled as "Act I: Scene 5" or The John-Hubert Temptation.  He was the only artist responsible for the set decoration in this section of the original 5 minute film.  Today (as of this writing) only one filmed section of the original 3 part production remains extant, accounting for just about a one minute of runtime, unfortunately it is not the part of the film that Hawes worked on. There are however, and thankfully, stills that survive of that portion of the film, one of which can be seen above under the title card for the film. 

[Source: BillionGraves]

Ivanhoe sketch


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