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Ellen Terry ('Choosing')

1 of 193 portraits of Ellen Terry

Ellen Terry ('Choosing'), by George Frederic Watts, 1864 - NPG 5048 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Ellen Terry ('Choosing')

by George Frederic Watts
oil on strawboard mounted on Gatorfoam, 1864
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1975
Primary Collection
NPG 5048


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Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), Painter and sculptor. Artist associated with 90 portraits, Sitter in 43 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This delicate yet sensuous portrait shows the seventeen-year-old Ellen Terry choosing between the camellias, which despite their luscious appearance have little scent, and the violets in her hand which are far humbler in appearance but smell sweeter. The choice, which is symbolic of that between worldly vanities and higher virtues, had a personal significance for the artist and the sitter. 1864 was the year in which Terry gave up the stage to marry Watts, thirty years her senior, and to be educated by him. The marriage lasted barely a year, and despite Watts's disapproval, Terry eventually returned to the stage. The portrait is framed in an enriched version of what became known as a Watts frame.

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Events of 1864back to top

Current affairs

First of the Contagious Diseases Act. These acts allowed for the arrest, medical inspection and confinement of any woman suspected of being a prostitute in the port towns. Following huge public outcry over their discrimination against women, notably led by Josephine Butler, leader of the Ladies' National Association, the acts were eventually repealed. Octavia Hill starts work on slums, and the International Working Men's Association is founded in London.

Art and science

The Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell presents his discoveries in the field of electromagnetics to the Royal Society. His paper A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field expresses the basic laws of electricity and magnetism in unified fashion. Maxwell's equations, as his rules came to be known, helped create modern physics, laying the foundation for future work in special relativity and quantum mechanics.

International

Austria and Prussia combine forces to seize Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark. Britain cedes Corfu, acquired from France in the Second Treaty of Paris (1815) to Greece. Although Britain had vigorously suppressed an uprising in 1849 in Cephalonia aiming to restore Iolian islands, the government changed policy throughout the 1850s and 60s.

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