OBITUARY : Riette Sturge Moore

Theatre designer, teacher, interior decorator, mapmaker, Riette Sturge Moore inspired young and old. Her gangly form, hair like a wild white cloud, husky voice and puff of Woodbine smoke were unmistakable.

She was half French, her mother from the Appia family, one cousin the great innovator in theatre design Adolphe Appia. Her father was Thomas Sturge Moore the poet, her uncle the philosopher G.E. Moore. Her childhood was spent in the shadow of the likes of W.B. Yeats, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon in 40 Well Walk, Hampstead - John Constable's old house - and at Bedales School, in Hampshire.

Surrounded by superior beings of all kinds, the shy girl had a very suppressed infancy and youth. The best of times were those spent in the Italian Alps, holidaying with relatives, and becoming a daring mountain climber - astounding as that may seem to those who only knew her as the epitome of subtle good taste.

Only when Riette got away from the family in the Twenties did she develop her firework display of talents. She trained as a decorator in London and Paris and studied at University College School of Architecture. She became one of London's most successful and revolutionary interior decorators - designing furniture, fabrics, rugs as well as the rooms themselves. She worked with such fashionable design houses at Hartigans Ltd and Heals; and her freelance work varied from Lady Diana Duff Cooper's swan-painted settee to the startling jade and red dragon decor of the cocktail bar of the Ladies' Carlton Club.

All this chic success did not make her immensely happy. A lecture by the influential French theatre director Michel St Denis, whose Compagnie des Quinze rocked London in the 1930s, started her on a career she really loved, as a theatre designer.

The onset of the Second World War in 1939 put a hold on theatre work and to her astonishment she found herself in Bath being considered a prime catch for the mapmaking section of the Admiralty.

After the war she taught and made theatre at Dartington Hall in Devon and the Bath Academy of Art, at Corsham in Wiltshire, where Clifford and Rosemary Ellis had gathered together an amazing collection of advisers and teachers: Michael Tippett, William Scott and Helen Binyon among them. Peter Cox described her then as "so idiosyncratic, so lovable, her work was so inspired and unlike anyone else's - those nights she spent in the back of the Barn Theatre, at Dartington, emerging at dawn with her fingers dripping with glue and a cigarette still drooping out of the side of her mouth, muttering deprecatingly that she hadn't got it quite right".

As a teacher Riette Sturge Moore was most remembered by the ease with which she communicated with generations of young people who thought of and talked to her as a contemporary. She was a wonderful listener and was virtually unshockable. She never imparted knowledge to people, but manoeuvred them into self-discovery.

She was not just a teacher but a doer - in the late Forties she was part of Sir Barry Jackson's revolution at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Jackson, with directors like the young Peter Brook, swept away the dust and raised the standards with a series of enchanting productions. Sturge Moore designed a dazzling and spectacular version of Marlowe's Dr Faustus in 1946 and an excitingly fresh Twelfth Night in 1947 with a young Paul Scofield having a great success as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Meanwhile she also joined the design staff at the short-lived but illustrious Old Vic School. Parallel with her teaching at the three institutions - Dartington, Corsham and the Old Vic - she worked on many productions. Outstanding were her designs for St Denis's version of Kaalevala, the Finnish epic, and the costumes for the Laurence Olivier / Peter Hall Coriolanus in 1959. It was in this Coriolanus that Albert Finney took over from Olivier when understudying and became a star.

Riette Sturge Moore was privately a generous helper, mentor and homegiver to musicians, poets, artists and theatre people like myself who otherwise could never have afforded to have followed their careers. She rejoiced in our successes, and, never having children of her own, made us all a loving family and changed our lives.

Frank Dunlop

Henriette Helene Rebecca Sturge Moore, theatre and interior designer: born London 17 June 1907; died London 26 September 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A mainstream Secondary school in C...

Guru Careers: HR Administrator / Training Coordinator

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: An HR Administrator / Training Coordinator is requi...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'