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Spring Backstage (St. Louis Municipal Opera)

Charles Eames


Charles had a lifelong fascination with unselfconscious design, such as the structures that support buildings and bridges, and in this case, the behind-the-scenes construction of a stage set. In 1932 he designed sets for the St. Louis Municipal Opera outdoor theater. Although he designed this set, he was more interested in painting the back of the stage than the front. Ten years after this painting, Charles would go on to work as a set designer for MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Obverse: Signed “C. O. Eames” in lower right. Reverse: “SPRING BACKSTAGE, St. Louis Municipal Opera, Spring 1932” handwritten above an attached label with a decorative border and “RUSSELL’S PATENTED [Image of Sphinx] MARCH 18, 1879. CANVAS BOARD. SIZE, 9 X 11 INCHES” printed in black ink.

  • Medium:Oil on canvas board
  • Dimensions:9 x 11 in. (22.9 x 27.9 cm)
  • Item:2019.2.192
Curatorial Notes
Charles’s lifelong interest in problem-solving is evident in his formative adult years, as he dabbled in just about every artistic medium. At Washington University (1925–1928) he received two first-place awards for the design of a bandstand and park pavilion. He also undertook printmaking, weaving, pottery, product design, and stage design as a member of the St. Louis Paint and Putter Club, which was both a social forum and a place of learning. Around 1932–1933, he designed sets for the St. Louis Municipal Opera outdoor theatre (still operating today in the city’s Forest Park). Characteristic of his natural curiosity as to how things work, Charles chose to paint the backstage area of the set in this small oil painting. The constructed back wall and stage brace of the set can be seen on the right. The central access ramp and rolling staircase is for the actors’ use, and in the distance, the columnar arcade that defines the top of the amphitheater is shown across the horizon line. Some ten years later, in Los Angeles during the early 1940s, Charles also worked as a set designer for the MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) art department, and became close companions with film director Billy Wilder.

Rachael Blackburn Cozad