THE FIRST ACTRESSES – AT THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

THE FIRST ACTRESSES, AT NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

 It was good news, I found I had won two tickets for the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, plus a copy of the exhibition catalogue.  If something costs nothing, it is even nicer, I find!

NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

National Portrait Gallery poster for Late Shift

I love this gallery, and often go in.  To see most of the displays does not require an entrance fee, but donations are welcomed, of course.

 This particular exhibition is small, well of course it is limited by virtue of its title.  There are some brilliant portraits.

 Most of the paintings, prints, ceramics and engravings are of women.  There are themes in each room, for example:

 DIVAS AND DANCERS, which includes a lucious portrait by Gainsborough, entitled Elizabeth Linley (Elizabeth Ann Sheridan)

 I noted in my little book that it is a full-length portrait in a landscape, with loose flicky brush strokes.

 The Gainsborough portraits are the highlights for me, since they display the consumate technique that Gainsborough developed – the actresses’ faces, white and pink, shining, luminous, brilliant against the muted background.  The hands and neck are next in importance, then look at the fluid, sketchy dress and feet, then the greeny brown background.

Gainsborough portrait of Elizabeth Sheridan

 Also in this room are two pastel portraits by John Russell – pastel is not an easy medium – but this artist has demonstrated his mastery.

 WILLIAM HOGARTH

 Also here is a Hogarth oil painting of The Beggar’s Opera, from Birmingham Museum, one of several versions Hogarth produced, in a dramatic and narrative style.

William Hogarth, The Beggar’s Opera,

Throughout the exhibition there is mention that the women actresses were fighting prejudice and were careful to represent themselves as respectable, not being prostitutes (which was originally a profession that went hand in hand with acting).  Several of these well-known actresses married well, into the artistocracy or monied upper class.

 PLAYS AND NOVELS

 Quite a few were successful literary figures, writing plays and novels – not something that I have hear of, in respect of modern actresses.

Some actresses did their memoirs and benefitted from the interest in salacious gossip of their times; there was then, as there is now, the desire to read shocking tales of sex and success which we still find in our media.

 These women were the first in England in particular (not sure about Scotland, Ireland and Wales) who established themselves earning an income from their talents, setting out in a very competitive field, some of course with the support of men but later standing alone and managing to show independence.

 The first acresses emerged with the establishment of the court of Charles II, and at that time women could take female roles which had previously been played by boys and men.

 Later the actresses turned the tables by appearing in male dress, much like our own modern-day principal boys in panto.

 The main artists, Reynolds, Romney, Gainsborough are well represented and there are also excellent works by Zoffany, Hoppner and Lawrence, John Russell (pastels), Lely and Gilray.

MODERN ACTRESSES

 However, in another two galleries there is a display of images of modern actresses, from film, TV and theatre.  Only three of them are paintings.  There are two pencil drawings.  All the other images are photographs.  This is bad news for us painters!

Nell Gwyn by Simon Vereist

Come on,  actresses, support the arts and commission an artist to paint your portrait!  Like your predecessors did.

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