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ROH Collections Item of the Month: The Front of House Collection

Spare a few minutes to take a look around before you head into a performance, and you'll see plenty of historic treasures in our front of house areas.

By Paris Hart (Former ROH Collections Assistant)

18 August 2015 at 10.18am | 2 Comments

ROH Collections is not confined to the archives. Many Collections items are on permanent display in the Royal Opera House’s public areas – the Front of House. These objects, from historic tables and chairs to paintings and chandeliers, are part of the Furniture and Art Collections. They are not only objects of museum value, but also contribute to the atmosphere and overall experience of visiting this historic building. ROH Collections keeps these items in the public areas so they can be appreciated by all who visit. From the numerous items on display, we’ve chosen some of our favourites:

In the Carriage Entrance Way – the neoclassical entrance on Bow Street – is the Foundation Stone for the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (the name of the Royal Opera House during the early 19th century). This piece of Regency Portland stone, measuring 123cm in height and 100cm in width, is engraved with the words ‘Long Live George Prince of Wales’. The stone dates back to 1808 when, on 31 December, it was laid by Prince (later King) George to commemorate the rebuilding of the theatre after the first building had been destroyed by fire. The stone would later survive the second fire in 1856 and has been part of the Royal Opera House for more than two hundred years – for a period of time it was even located in the gentleman’s toilets! It was moved to its current position during the redevelopment of the Royal Opera House in the late 1990s.

In the main entrance foyer there’s a full-size marble statue of Frederick Gye, an incredibly important figure in the history of the Royal Opera House. General Manager of the theatre from 1847 until his death in 1878, Gye was responsible for rebuilding the theatre in 1856 and creating the auditorium that we see today. This statue was discovered in 1925 ‘among the debris of an antique shop’, according to a contemporary news report. Once restored, it was put on display in the foyer in 1935, where it has stood ever since.

Not all of the Front of House Collections are so sturdy. Items of historic furniture, including the Crush Room sofas and much furniture in the theatre’s boxes, are in regular use, which makes the risk of damage to these fragile objects extremely high. ROH Collections works hard to prevent this as much as is possible: each week an ROH Collections team member walks round the building, visually checking the condition and security of the collections and reporting any issues or damage as quickly as possible. This way, we can keep the objects Front of House for public enjoyment.

Inevitably, items do need maintenance or conservation – and with the range of items on display our approach has to vary. For example, the late 18th-century Louis XVI clock on display on the mantelpiece in the Crush Room requires visits from a specialist horologist to reset the clock if it stops working and if necessary take the clock apart to fix any more difficult problems. It is not simply a case of changing the batteries for this one!

As every year, at the moment, the ROH is closed to allow vital restoration work to take place. It’s the only time of year we can take care of these items, so crucial to the atmosphere of the Royal Opera House, and ensure they can be enjoyed by future generations.

Find out more about the work of ROH Collections.

By Paris Hart (Former ROH Collections Assistant)

18 August 2015 at 10.18am

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged architecture, art, Frederick Gye, front of house, Furniture and Art Collections, history, Item of the Month, maintenance, ROH Collections, sculpture

This article has 2 comments

  1. Elizabeth Holden responded on 27 August 2015 at 3:38pm Reply

    I read your article and found it very interesting, I purchased a seat to see Romeo and Juliet on Saturday 19 September. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne and am very much looking forward to my first visit to ROH and will certainly pay attention to the front of house collections.

    Kind regards, Liz

  2. Paris Hart (Former ROH Collections Assistant) responded on 3 September 2015 at 11:49am Reply

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you so much for your comment and I'm glad you found the article interesting. I hope that looking out for ROH Collections items on display in the building makes your visit to the Royal Opera House even more enjoyable!

    Many thanks,

    Collections Assistant, ROH Collections

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