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Kerslake: Mrs Cibber (1714-66)

Extract from an out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, pp. 55-6. Footnotes in the original text are given within square brackets. Subject to funding, it is hoped to make the full text of this catalogue available online.

Mrs Cibber (1714-66)

Susanna Maria Cibber, née Arne
Actress and singer; sister of the composer Dr Arne; married, 1734, the playwright Theophilus, son of Colley Cibber, separated, 1738; the contralto songs in Handel's Messiah written for her; appeared frequently opposite Garrick; her greatest successes date from circa 1744.

1984 by an unknown artist, circa 1729
Ivory medallion, 1 3/8  x 1 1/8 in. (35 x 28 mm) oval, high relief, profile; own hair gathered at the back into a long switch; decolleté dress.

Lettered along left-hand edge: SVSAN: MARIA, and down the right, ARNE. AE. XV; a monogram SMC on the back, in a style perhaps not quite contemporary.

Condition: good.

Collections: Bought for the NPG at the Rosenheim sale, Sotheby's, 10 May 1923, lot 161.

4526 by Thomas Hudson, circa 1749(?)
Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 3/4 in. (762 x 629 mm), black eyebrows, dark blue eyes, fresh complexion, near-black hair parted in the centre and falling to nape of neck; grey dress with blue drapery loosely encircling shoulders; plain grey background; in a grey painted oval; lit from left.

Condition: cleaned and varnished on acquisition when a course later extension over the bottom spandrels was removed.

Collections: Purchased, 1967; by descent to T.G.B. Forster of Holt, Wilts; sold Sotheby's, 24 November 1965, lot 90, and again 11 January 1967, lot 140 (as Maria Gunning by Hogarth), purchased Leggatt’s for the NPG.

Engraved: in reverse by J. Marchand, 1749, after Hudson, in a cartouche above a trophy including Shakespeare Vol. II.

Literature: J. Genest, Some Account of the English Stage, from the Restoration in 1660 to 1830, 1832.


She was blessed with "that uncommon symmetry and exact proportion in her form, that happily remained with her to her death', and she so resembled Garrick 'that they might have passed for brother and sister' (Genest, vol.4, p.640; DNB, vol.7, p.899).


The earliest date which can be attached with certainty to a portrait is 1739 when the Hudson in the Garrick Club was engraved anonymously [previously in the collection of Charles Mathews (d.1835]]. The sitter features as Cordelia in King Lear by Peter Van Bleeck, engraved by the artist as painted in 1755 ['Field Scene', Act 3, Nahum Tate’s version; W. Moelwyn Merchant, Shakespeare and the Artist, 1959, p.24, pl.5a]. Formerly on loan to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, and now in the Mellon collection, the painting shows her in an ermine-lined cloak over a dress with Van Dyck collar. A miniature of a man in peer's robes (Lear?) is pinned to her breast. A related sketch was at Christie's, 7 March 1969, lot 115, as by Hogarth.

A pastel by Catherine Read of her as Calista in The Fair Penitent was exhibited at the Society of Artists, 1760 (46), and in her last years Zoffany painted her twice with Garrick. Formerly in Garrick's collection, these have descended to Lord Lambton. These show 'Mr Garrick in the character of the Farmer returned from London', from The Farmer's Return, exhibited at the Society of Artists, 1762 (138), and Garrick as Jaffier with Mrs Cibber as Belvidera in a scene from Venice Preserved, Society of Artists, 1763 (137) ['British Theatrical Loan Exhibition', 1933 (374, 370]]. A version of the former is in the Mellon collection [Catalogue, 1963 (451]], and of the second, there is one at the Garrick Club (378) and another formerly in the collection of W. Somerset Maugham was bequeathed to the National Theatre Collection ['Johann Zoffany', Arts Council, 1961 (19]]. An engraving of 1776 by J. Thornthwaite for Bell's British Theatre, lettered Painted from a Picture in the Possession of D. Garrick Esq., seems based on the type.

Portrait of doubtful authenticity, some named as her within the 18th century, are fairly numerous and include a three-quarter length at Cairnbulg Castle, Lord Saltoun, formerly in the collection of the Earls of Fife at Rothiemay and listed there by Musgrave in 1798 [British Library, Add. MS 6329, f.107]. It is attributed to William Hoare and inscribed with the sitter's name.


DNB  The Dictionary of National Biography, edited L. Stephen and S. Lee, reissue, 1908-9.