The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Sarah Siddons (née Kemble)

Sarah Siddons (née Kemble), by John Downman, 1787 -NPG 2651 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Sarah Siddons (née Kemble)

by John Downman
8 in. x 6 3/4 in. (203 mm x 171 mm) oval
NPG 2651

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated lower left: J Downman/del/1787.

This portraitback to top

Inscribed by the artist, on a separate paper now mounted with the drawing: Mrs Siddons 1787. Original/The great Tragic Actress/I drew this for the Duke of Richmond, but/he preferred the Duplicate./Off the Stage I thought her face more/ inclined to the Comic. In 1787 Downman had collaborated with Mrs Siddons in private theatricals organised by the 3rd Duke of Richmond, providing portraits of contemporary beauties as stage scenery. [1] Downman’s discovery of ‘the comic’ in Mrs Siddons features led to NPG 2651 being criticised when shown at the RA, as being a portrait of ‘a pastoral coquette’. [2]
The second version, mentioned by Downman, also signed and dated 1787, was last sold Christie’s, 10 July 1990, lot 84. Slight variations (in, for example, the top of her hat and the fold of her waistband) indicate it was this second version which was engraved by P. W. Tomkins in 1797. [3]
An enamel copy by Henry Bone was in an English private collection in 1970 (yellow dress, purple ribbon in hair). A miniature copy was last sold Phillips, 11 November 1991, lot 7a.

Footnotesback to top

1) R. Asleson ed., A Passion for Performance, Sarah Siddons and her Portraitists, exhibition catalogue, Getty Museum, 1999, p 79; see S. Rosenfeld, Temples of Thespis, 1978, p 36.
2) St James’s Chronicle, 24 May 1788.
[n3 ]Illus. G. C. Williamson, John Downman, 1907, pp 12, 37.

Referenceback to top

Asleson 1999
R. Asleson ed., A Passion for Performance, Sarah Siddons and her Portraitists, exhibition catalogue, Getty Museum, 1999, pp 79-80.

Physical descriptionback to top

Dark eyes, grey powdered hair, rouged complexion; wearing a white hat, a white dress with grey stripes, a white frilly fichu and a hair-ribbon and waistband of silver-blue.

Provenanceback to top

Henrietta, Lady Brooke (d. 1911), by descent to Mrs D. E. Knollys, by whom presented 1934.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA, 1968-69 (527); The Georgian Playhouse, Actors, Artists, Audiences and Architecture 1730-1830, Arts Council, 1975 (107); Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, Tulsa, Miami, Washington, Ottawa, NPG, Manchester, Carlisle, Canterbury,

View all known portraits for Sarah Siddons (née Kemble)


Become a Member

Enjoy access to special events, discounts on the Gallery online shop, supporters’ updates and much more

Join today

Get social

Bringing people together by sharing the portraits and stories of the men and women who have shaped our nation.

Facebook Instagram Twitter


Sign up to receive information on exhibitions, collections and activities of the National Portrait Gallery, including special offers, shop products, and exclusive competitions.

Sign up