Born in 1851, Percy Anderson was a celebrated English stage designer and portrait painter of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
London based, he was best known for his extensive work for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, for the flamboyant actor and theatre manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1852-1917) at His Majesty’s Theatre, and the set designs and costumes he was commissioned to create for popular Edwardian musical comedies.
Beginning with The Yeomen of the Guard in 1888, Anderson designed the costumes for all the original productions of the Savoy Operas. He continued to design costumes for D'Oyly Carte revivals in the early twentieth century, including Trial by Jury, H.M.S. Pinafore, Patience, Iolanthe, Princess Ida, Ruddigore, The Yeomen of the Guard, The Pirates of Penzance and The Gondoliers.
For Herbert Beerbohm Tree at His Majesty's Theatre, Anderson designed Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard II, King John, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and two plays by Stephen Phillips, Herod and Ulysses.
Among his other signal successes were costumes for Oscar Asche’s spectacular productions, such as Kismet in 1911, Chu Chin Chow in 1916 and Cairo in 1921; Trelawny of the Wells by Pinero, Véronique in 1904, Merrie England in 1902 and Fallen Fairies in 1909 at the Savoy; as well as productions of musical comedies for the famous theatre manager and theatrical producer, George Edwardes.
He designed the costumes for Henry James’s ill-fated theatrical effort, Guy Domville. "The Time" remained resolutely unimpressed by either the play or the costumes.
In 1899 he designed the costumes for the hit musical San Toy, The Duchess of Dantzic in 1903, the hit British premiere of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow in 1907, and for many other successful musicals.
The Royal Opera House also commissioned Anderson to design costumes for them in 1900, and his designs were also used in a number of Broadway productions.
Although best known as a costume designer, Percy Anderson was also a prolific and successful portrait painter. He exhibited at the New Watercolour Society in 1886. His best known portraits included those of the poet and dramatist Stephen Phillips in 1902, his great friend the legendary composer Edward Elgar in 1905, and the literary icon Joseph Conrad in 1918 ; the last two portraits are in the National Gallery Collection.
A March 1906 article in "The Lady's Realm", entitled “The Art of Percy Anderson”, listed some of his well-known subjects and included photographs of a number of them. He illustrated the 1907 book, "Costume: Fanciful, Historical and Theatrical".
Anderson was a man of substantial private means, and for a time roomed with William Morton Fullerton, the journalist, author, "Times" foreign correspondent and sometime lover of fellow American, Edith Wharton.
He was part of a circle of rich, artistic men, who included Lord Ronald Gower, the courtier Alec Yorke and Hamilton Aïdé. In the 1910’s, Anderson was closely associated with the young novelist Hugh Walpole.
Percy Anderson died in King's College Hospital, London, in 1928, aged 77.
"The Times", in its obituary notice, said of Anderson that:
“He escaped from the pedantry of his predecessors and paved the way in a most interesting manner for Leon Bakst, Claud Lovat Fraser and Gordon Craig. As a painter, Anderson achieved notable success, and his portraits hang in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Louvre, and the British Museum.”
The Victoria and Albert Museum today holds in its design and costume collection a large number of his sketches and designs for various operas and operettas.