The First Actresses presents a vivid spectacle of femininity, fashion and theatricality in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Britain.

Taking centre stage are the intriguing and notorious female performers of the period whose lives outside of the theatre ranged from royal mistresses to admired writers and businesswomen. The exhibition reveals the many ways in which these early celebrities used portraiture to enhance their reputations, deflect scandal and create their professional identities.

Featuring famous masterpieces alongside works that are on show for the first time, the fascinating stories of actresses such as Nell Gwyn, Kitty Clive, Hester Booth, Lavinia Fenton, Elizabeth Linley, Sarah Siddons, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan will be explored through portraits by the leading artists of the period including Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Hoppner and James Gillray.

Exhibition supported by the Patrons of the National Portrait Gallery.

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