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Actresses debut at Portrait Gallery

Published 7 June 2011

This autumn a host of actresses will take up residence at the National Portrait Gallery as part of its First Actresses: Nell Gwyn To Sarah Siddons exhibition.

Running from 20 October to 8 January, the exhibition claims to break new ground as the first to explore the relationship of art and theatre in the 18th century through portraits of its leading female performers.

The exhibition, which includes art works loaned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Garrick Club Library, Tate Britain and the Victoria And Albert Museum, features portraits of actresses including Gwyn, Siddons, Kitty Clive, Hester Booth, Lavinia Fenton, Susannah Cibber and Mary Robinson.

Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera, Gainsborough’s portraits of Giovanna Bacelli and Elizabeth Linley, and Reynold’s portrait of Siddons as the Tragic Muse are among the exhibition’s highlights.

First Actresses, which also features a rarely seen portrait of a trio of the 18th century’s most glamorous women depicted as Macbeth’s Three Witches, is curated by Professor Gill Perry, whose book, Spectacular Flirtations, was shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize in 2008.

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