The Northern Illinois University/ Lyric Opera of Chicago Historical Scenic Collection represents a comprehensive depository of primary scenic materials from the American Operatic theatre at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The contents include almost the entire repertoire of operas innovatively produced by Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company and traces the inception, rise and development of resident opera in Chicago, culminating with the demise of the Civic Opera Company in 1932. While some settings employ the architectural fantasies of romanticized ruins, and others rely on the aesthetic of historical accuracy, still others point the way toward innovation and revolution. PHOTO


Having in excess of 5 million square feet of painted surfaces, the Scenic Collection is the largest continuous and best preserved collection of an approach to scenic art that at once embodies the 200 year old tradition of lavish painterly perspective and yet signals the erosion of that tradition in favor of the architectonic style fostered by the development of electricity in stage lighting and practiced by the new stagecraft movement. Settings for the productions were designed and painted by scenic artists with international reputations including the Russians Anisfeld and Roerich; painters from La Scala such as Santoni and Rovescalli; from Vienna, the painters Burghart, Kautsky, and Rottonara; Dove and Schroeder from Berlin; and the Americans Norman Bel Geddes and Robert Edmond Jones.


Housed in the Arts Annex of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Northern Illinois University, the Scenic Collection includes elements from the settings of almost 90 operas, with approximately 900 backdrops and borders and more than 2200 framed scenic units. These sets illustrate an exceptional range of production styles between 1889 and 1932, reflecting the influence of Realism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism and Art Nouveau in scene painting. In addition to the scenery there are selected three dimensional units including furniture and properties. Furthermore, the collection is supported by an extraordinary archive of production notebooks, property lists, inventories, expense records, performance time sheets, correspondence, original photographs of the sets, selected costumes, and opera stars of the period, ground plans and blueprints, painters elevations and renderings, original costume and set design drawings.


The collection contains 120 finely crafted, exquisitely painted and detailed maquettes. Scaled at 1/4" to the foot, these miniatures represent 47 settings in the collection and illustrate the use of models as both presentational pieces as well as painter's elevations.


No known collection of scenery, maquettes and archival documents is of the size and quality of the Scenic Collection. Early flats and drops were painted on durable Irish linen resulting in painted surfaces remarkably fresh and crisp in detail. The Scenic Collection captures for designers, scenic artists and educators an incredible spectrum of pictoral sources ranging from tapestries to landscapes; painting techniques including marbling, wood graining, foliage, mosaics and atmospheric effects. This extraordinary collection of scenic art has been photographically documented in long shots, simulating the audience view to the stage and in close-up details, revealing the facile brush strokes and techniques of master scenic artists. Representative samples are available in a collection of 3105 color slides which have been carefully and professionally processed to insure color integrity and image longevity, are documented in text format and coded for cross referencing, and are encased in clear plastic, archival sleeves. Theatre professionals and educators have attested to the astounding visual treasure trove of materials made accessible through this remarkable collection.

Charles Elson, Professor Emeritus of Yale University, writes "The collection records and preserves the Golden period of scene painting, provides thousands of examples for study and makes it accessible to anyone with a slide viewer.... The maquettes should be considered national treasures... they compare with the finest examples in Europe and should be mentioned in the same breath as the Thorne Collection at the Art Institute in Chicago."

Hank Kupjack of Kupjack studios: "The Scenic Collection is a unique cultural treasure. The full-size opera sets are the last of a dying art form of scenic painting, and the maquettes of each set are not only a visual record of each set design but works of miniature art in and of themselves."

Rachel Keebler of Cobalt Scenic Studios: "The wealth of information about historic scene painting preserved in this collection is astounding. The painting is bold and colorful showing the high level of training of the artists of the period. Studying this material has been inspirational to me. It has to be seen to be believed.... Anyone who becomes excited when looking at brilliant painting must see this material. The high level of training that the artists had shines through. We all can learn from the bold use of color and free brush strokes".

Desmond Heeley writes: "Here is wonderful, tangible proof of an art all too often regarded as one written on water; a vivid and exciting collection of theatre artifacts. The examples of scene painting dazzle with virtuosity and finesse. I am in awe at these artists and their special brand of artistry, many of whom seem to exude a confidence with the brush bordering on arrogance and pleasure in the gravure that covers these vast canvases.... These artifacts reveal astonishing techniques at close quarters and are pure magic when viewed at some distance.... I bend the knee to these true magicians of the theatre and can't help but wonder at their feelings if they knew that their labours were to be so carefully tended and cared for; giving delight and instruction to scholar, artist and layman alike for many years to come."

detail 16' x 24' from full drop 66' x 36', The Magic Flute, c. 1915

Future Collections

Future slide and microfiche sets will be published containing period photographs of productions dating from the early seasons of visiting and resident opera companies at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, production notebooks documenting performance details, and archival documents including drawings, business records and correspondence.

Price and Ordering Information

Sample Set: $600*
This set contains 120 images providing a sampler of maquettes, flats, drops and borders including rusticated stone and glass effects, architectural realism, stylization, and romanticism, and the exquisite work of the Viennese scene painter, Hans Kautsky.

Set 1: Scenic Maquettes: $1200
Depicting 47 operas in 1/4" scale, this set of 232 images demonstrates a variety of styles and modeling techniques crafted as painter's elevations and presentational pieces.

Set 2: Framed Units: $2,846 Containing 1,779 images, this set represents single and multiple fold scenic flats and profile pieces illustrating interior and exterior architectural periods spanning from early Egypt to 19th century Paris.

Set 3: Soft Goods: $2,078This set of 1,094 images captures scene painting on a grand scale with most of the full drops measuring 40' high x 68' wide depicting landscapes, flowering trees and shrubs, magical forests and architectural facades across the centuries. Included in this set are selected sculptural pieces designed by Robert Edmond Jones.

Complete Set: $3,800 Consisting of 3105 images, this set contains all of the above images, encased in ring binders and includes descriptive material documenting the collection. Purchase of this complete set represents a savings of more than 25% over the cost of the individual sets.

Future Sets

Set 4 - Production Photographs, to be published TBA.
Set 5 - Notebooks with production records including ground plans, drawings, property and costume plots, to be published TBA.
Set 6 - Archival Documents, to be published TBA.

Inquiries to: Alexander F. Adducci, School of Theatre and Dance, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Il 60115. Tel. 815-501-3294.

* applies to cost of complete set if complete set is ordered within 30 days of receipt of sample set.