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Sarah Siddons (née Kemble) ('Mrs Siddons with the Emblems of Tragedy')

4 of 38 portraits of Sarah Siddons (née Kemble)

Sarah Siddons (née Kemble) ('Mrs Siddons with the Emblems of Tragedy'), by Sir William Beechey, 1793 - NPG 5159 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Sarah Siddons (née Kemble) ('Mrs Siddons with the Emblems of Tragedy')

by Sir William Beechey
oil on canvas, 1793
96 1/2 in. x 60 1/2 in. (2456 mm x 1537 mm)
Given by Dr D.M. McDonald, 1977
Primary Collection
NPG 5159

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  • Sir William Beechey (1753-1839), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 250 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.

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The actress Sarah Siddons’s first major success came in 1782 with her portrayal of Isabella in the Fatal Marriage, written by David Garrick the leading actor-manager of the period. Siddons excelled at Shakespearean roles, particularly Lady Macbeth. Following Garrick's model of self-promotion, Siddons associated her personal reputation with that of Shakespeare and used portraiture to seal her fame. In this painting Siddons, holding a tragic mask and a dagger, is shown with a monument to Shakespeare. The representation caused much debate when shown at the Royal Academy in 1794, one critic thought it inappropriate and 'disgusting'. Such public furore secured Siddons's reputation and underpinned her celebrity.

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