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Charles John Kean; Ellen Terry as Leontes and Mamillius in 'The Winter's Tale'

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Charles John Kean; Ellen Terry as Leontes and Mamillius in 'The Winter's Tale'

by Martin Laroche (William Henry Silvester)
salt print, 26 April 1856
9 1/8 in. x 6 7/8 in. (233 mm x 176 mm)
Given by Jane Souter Hipkins, 1930
Photographs Collection
NPG x7954

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Terry’s acting career spanned sixty-nine years and she achieved her greatest distinction in playing Shakespearian roles. In this early photograph, Terry is dressed for her debut stage role as Mamillius in a long-running production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at the Princess's Theatre in London alongside Kean, the leading actor-manager of the period, who played Leontes. Terry performed her role 102 times, and a review in The Times described her performance as 'vivacious and precocious'. The period costumes worn here demonstrate Kean’s enthusiasm for historical accuracy in his productions and contrast with the simplicity of Laroche’s studio backdrop. Laroche’s photographic studio was located close to the Princess's Theatre on Oxford Street and he took more than fifty photographs of Kean and other actors who appeared in his Shakespearian productions in the latter half of the 1850s.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 35 Read entry

    Born into a theatrical family, Ellen Terry made her stage début on 28 April 1856 at the age of nine, as the boy Mamillius in The Winter's Tale with Charles Kean's company at the Princess' Theatre, Oxford Street. The performance was attended by Queen Victoria. This photograph, one of the earliest theatrical photographs in the Gallery's collection, was taken two days before, when the play was in rehearsal, and shows Terry and Kean in costume.

    Kean, the son of the celebrated tragedian Edmund Kean, and married to the actress Ellen Tree, was the first of the line of successful actor-managers who dominated London's theatre in the nineteenth century. Terry, following her disastrous marriage to the painter G. F. Watts (1864) and a liaison with the architect E. W. Godwin, went into theatrical partnership with Henry Irving at the Lyceum (1867). She played alongside him in a wide range of Shakespearian roles, and with her vitality, luminosity and intelligence, established herself as the leading actress of the period. She gave her last performance in 1925. Over many years, she enjoyed a spirited correspondence with George Bernard Shaw, who wrote: 'Ellen Terry is the most beautiful name in the world; it rings like a chime through the last quarter of the nineteenth century'. Edward Gordon Craig was her son by Godwin.

Events of 1856back to top

Current affairs

Queen Victoria introduces the Victoria cross, an award for British soldiers who displayed exceptional valour in battle. Each medal was produced from Russian guns captured in the British war. In 2006, Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry became the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross since 1965, for his actions in the Iraq war.

Art and science

The National Portrait Gallery is founded by Philip Henry Stanhope, 5th Earl of Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and Thomas Carlyle, all biographers and historians. Historical rather than artistic in focus, the Gallery's aim was to collect original portraits of outstanding figures from British history, notably from politics, the arts, literature and science.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning publishes her epic and autobiographical poem Aurora Leigh.


The Treaty of Paris ends the Crimean war. Russia concedes to the Anglo-French-Austrian Four Points of August 1854 including the guarantee of Ottoman sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia also agreed to a demilitarisation of the land islands in the Baltics, a term which lasted until the outbreak of the First World War.
Britain launches the second Opium war against China.

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