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Sarah Siddons (née Kemble)

Sarah Siddons (née Kemble), by Gilbert Stuart, 1787 -NPG 50 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Sarah Siddons (née Kemble)

by Gilbert Stuart
29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (749 mm x 622 mm)
NPG 50

This portraitback to top

NPG 50 may be compared with the 1782 portrait by Thomas Beach in the demonstration of modest sensibility (and see also Beechey, NPG 5159). Accepted for the collection with an attribution to Beechey, but an attribution to Stuart, first proposed in 1914 by C. H. Hart, [1] has since found acceptance. In 1932 Whitley plausibly associated NPG 50 with the announcement in the World, 18 April 1787, that Stuart’s portrait of Mrs Siddons was

'not yet finished, but if finished with as much spirit and delicacy as it exhibits while this account is writing of it, there will be no inferiority even to the first head of Kemble [2] ... [Stuart] dives deep into mind, and brings up with him a conspicuous draught of character and characteristic thought - all as sensible to feeling and to sight as the most palpable projections in any feature of a face.' [3]
A copy by W. Horn Rosenberg was sold Christie’s, 14 December 1905, part lot 187 as after Beechey, and a version is in an American private collection. [4]

Footnotesback to top

1) As described by L. Park, Gilbert Stuart, 1926, no.765.
2) An untraced head, as Macbeth, see W. T. Whitley, Gilbert Stuart, 1932, p 53.
3) Quoted in W. T. Whitley, Gilbert Stuart, 1932, pp 59-60.
4) A portrait once called Mrs Siddons and formerly attributed to Stuart, but probably by Hoppner, was sold Christie’s, 16 July 1909, lot 136 (illus. The Masterpieces of Hoppner, 1926, p 57, and see McKay & Roberts, Supplement, 1914, p 47 (NPG annotations).

Referenceback to top

Asleson 1999
R. Asleson ed., A Passion for Performance, Sarah Siddons and her Portraitists, exhibition catalogue, Getty Museum, 1999, pp 48-49.

Evans 1999
D. Evans, The Genius of Gilbert Stuart, 1999, pp 39-40.

Park 1926
L. Park, Gilbert Stuart, 1926, no.765 as c.1785.

Roberts 1907
W. Roberts, Sir William Beechey RA, 1907, p 46, f.p.230 as Beechey.

Physical descriptionback to top

Dark blue eyes, powdered hair, large white turban with a white rosette, wearing a pale grey-blue dress with a white fichu and sash, holding a book.

Provenanceback to top

[the father of Horace Twiss, her nephew, commissioned a portrait from Stuart];1 family possession2 descending to John Thadeus Delane,3 by whom presented 1858.

1 W. T. Whitley, Gilbert Stuart, 1932, p 60.
2 L. Park, Gilbert Stuart, 1926, no.765, suggested that NPG 50 ‘was probably the picture sold in London in 1829 for two guineas as by Stuart and of Mrs Kemble’; but Mrs Siddons was then still alive and NPG 50 appears to have remained with her direct descendants; a portrait of Mrs Siddons now identified as Romney, was sold in 1829 as by ‘Stewart’ (see J. Watson, Apollo, CXXXVI, 1992, pp 149, 151).
3 1817-79, editor of The Times, he married a daughter of Horace Twiss, nephew of J. P. Kemble. He wrote to Scharf, 21 July 1859, saying that NPG 50 had been in the Kemble family since it was painted ‘and came into my hands through the late Mr Horace Twiss whose mother was a Kemble’ (NPG archive).

Exhibitionsback to top

The Gothick, Brighton, 1975 (D16); Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, NPG exhibition, Fukushima, Nagoya, Kitakyushu Hiroshima, Tokyo, 1995-96 (18); 10 Downing Street, 1996-98; Muses, Madonnas and Maidens, Tokyo, 2001 (B23).

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

View all known portraits for Sarah Siddons (née Kemble)


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