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Ellen Terry's Costume

 Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 
John Singer Sargent -- American painter  
Tate Gallery, London 
Oil on canvas  
221 x 114.3 cm 
Presented by Sir Joseph Duveen 1906 
 Jpg: Tate Gallery, London / jamienaish's
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Probably the closest Sargent ever got to the Pre-Raphael Brotherhood was with his paintings of the famous actress, Dame Ellen Terry (1847–1928) as Lady Macbeth after the first performance in the role; and yet this is not at all an allegorical painting, just a straight portrait of the actress in costume playing Lady Macbeth. Still, the tone, the costume, the medieval implications are very much in theme with Edward Burne-Jones and the Aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism. 

In a letter to Mrs. Jack Gardner, whom he had painted the year before in Boston, he tells of this painting. 

33, Tite Street 
     Chelsea, S.W., 
           Jan. 1st, '89. 

Dear Mrs. Gardner, 

Am I in time to forestall the conclusion that I forgot my friends? I should dislike such a reputation and being a very bad correspondent I seem to invite it. Horrible injustice? It shows the utter insanity of logical inferences. 

You know several of the people whom I am painting now, so I shall talk shop. Henschel, Miss Huxley, Ellen Terry; if you can say one is painting, when sittings resolve themselves into sitting by the fire or at the patio with lamps at two in the afternoon. There might be a Tower Eiffel here with studios at the top. Miss Terry has just come out in Lady Macbeth and looks magnificent in it, but she has not yet made up her mind to let me paint her in one of the dresses until she is quite convinced that she is a success. From a pictorial point of view there can be no doubt about it – magenta hair! 

I am going to Paris in the Spring for the Jury of ‘89 and to paint a portrait or two. Will you be there in March or April? 

Best wishes for a happy New Year, 

Yours sincerely, 

John S. Sargent 

(Letter to Gardner, Charteris, pp. 100-101)

In her own autobiography Ellen Terry talks about the painting and the dress:   
One of Mrs. Nettle's greatest triumphs was my Lady Macbeth dress, which she carried out from Mrs. Cosmyn Carr.  I am glad to think it is immortalised in Sargent's picture.  From the first I knew that picture was going to be splendid.  In my diary for 1888 I was always writing about it:  

"The picture of me is nearly finished, and I think it is magnificent.  The green and blue of the dress is splendid,  and the expression as Lady Macbeth holds the crown over her head is quite wonderful . . ." 

"Sargent's picture is almost finished, and it really is splendid.  Burne-Jones yesterday suggested two or three alterations about the colour which Sargent immediately adopted, but Burne Jones raves about the picture . . ." 

"Sargent's picture is talked of everywhere and quarrelled about as much as my way of playing the part . . ." 

"Sargent's Lady Macbeth in the New Gallery is a great success.  The picture is the sensation of the year.  Of course, opinions differ about it, but there are dense crowds round it day after day." 

Since then it has gone nearly over the whole of Europe and is now resting for life in the Tate Gallery.  Sargent suggested by this picture all that I should have liked to be able to convey in my acting as Lady Macbeth.  
(Ellen Terry Tribute Page) 

From: Tate Gallery Display Caption  
(14-Nov-2001)   . . . He invented [Ellen Terry's] dramatic pose, which did not occur in the production. Oscar Wilde, who saw Terry’s arrival at Sargent’s Chelsea studio, remarked, ‘The street that on a wet and dreary morning has vouchsafed the vision of Lady Macbeth in full regalia magnificently seated in a four-wheeler can never again be as other streets: it must always be full of wonderful possibilities.’  


Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (sketch)  
Dame Alice Ellen Terry  
copy by John Singer Sargent  
1906 (1889)  
National Portrait Gallery, London  
Medium: grisaille  
85.1 x 71.1 cm  (33 1/2  x 28 in.)
(Thumbnail only)
Jpg: NPG

Created 1999