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‘Nor is the figure a mere theatrical portrait’: Exhibiting and Reproducing Theatrical Portraits in London, 1830 – 1860

Research Lunch – Tessa Kilgarriff

  • 2 February 2018
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Seminar Room

In 1849, the artist Daniel Maclise started painting a full-length portrait of the actor William Charles Macready as the character Werner in Byron’s play of the same name. The portrait was commissioned by a mutual friend of Maclise and Macready, the literary critic John Forster, and was intended to commemorate the actor’s celebrated career upon his retirement. Once completed C.W. Sharpe was employed to engrave the portrait, and Maclise came up with an inventive plan to drum up subscriptions to cover the costs of the engraving: the portrait would be sent on the circuit of Macready’s farewell tour around England and Scotland.

As the portrait moved from city to city in Macready’s wake it also drew a connecting line between the theatrical and commercial spaces of the stage and print shop/picture gallery. My aim in this paper is to establish the extent to which the display of theatrical portraits was connected to the complex broadening of theatrical culture in this period, and to question assertions that the genre fell from favour in exhibitions.

Man in brown jacket stood next to woman sat with head in hands

Daniel Maclise, Macready as Werner, 1849–50.

Digital image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

About the speaker

  • Tessa Kilgarriff is Curatorial Fellow at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village and a collaborative PhD candidate at the University of Bristol and the National Portrait Gallery. Her doctoral project focuses on the production and dissemination of printed, painted and photographic theatrical portraiture in London, c.1820-1870. In 2016, she curated a display related to her thesis entitled Reproducing Fame: Printmakers and the Nineteenth-Century Stage at the National Portrait Gallery. Her research has been supported by a visiting scholar award at the Yale Center for British Art, and fellowships at Harvard University’s Houghton Library and the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum.