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

Reproducing Fame: Printmakers and the Nineteenth Century Stage

Past display archive
27 August 2016 - 31 July 2017

Room 24: case display


William Dowton
by Thomas Charles Wageman, after Samuel De Wilde
published 1 May 1808
NPG D9301

In the nineteenth century the range of live entertainment offered by London’s theatres grew exponentially. Across the city audiences gathered to see spectacles which varied from Shakespearean dramas to contemporary melodramas and farces. As theatres dispersed across the capital, the faces of stage performers also became more visible to their audiences via the medium of print. Portraiture showed the costumes, gestures and expressions of actors and singers to spectators both inside and outside the theatre. The collaboration of artists, printmakers and publishers to create theatrical portraits became widespread in the eighteenth century, but from the early nineteenth century onward, printmaking innovations meant that more varied likenesses could now be produced and sold. Engravings, etchings, mezzotints, aquatints and lithographs of differing quality, colour and price lined print shop windows, illustrated books and filled private folios.

The demand for likenesses of famous stage stars such as Eliza Vestris and Charles William Macready allowed some artists to specialise in theatrical portraiture. This display surveys the depiction and transmission of celebrity through print, highlighting the skill of printmakers who portrayed the ingenuity of the London stage.

© The National Portrait Gallery, London

Do, draw and make!

Do, draw and make!

From building dens to food faces – enjoy our Playful Portraits activities and find out about some brilliant people!

Get Creative

Healthcare Heroes

Activities for children and families inspired by three healthcare heroes from our Collection.

Learn together

Learning resources

Downloadable and web based resources to support learning at home linked to art, history, citizenship and literacy.

Get learning