Portrait of Sarah Siddons

Portrait of Sarah Siddons

Sarah Siddons was the eldest child of the actor and theatre manager, Roger Kemble (1722-1802) and his wife, Sarah Ward (1735-1807). From the age of 12, Sarah began to appear with the Kemble's company while attending Mrs Harris's School for Young Ladies at the Thornloe House in Worcester. It was in her father' company that she met William Siddons (1744-1808). They were married in 1773. Hearing of her talent, David Garrick (1717-1779) engaged Sarah in his company at Drury Lane in 1775, where she appeared as Portia in The Merchant of Venice on 29 December 1775. Her London debut, however, was not successful and she spent the next six years touring the theatres in England, working in York, Liverpool and Manchester in 1776-77 and Bath in 1778. Her successful return to the London stage in 1782 made her a cult figure whilst she was still in her 20s. She was a highly charismatic performer and was able to convey specific types of suffering to her audiences in the many tragic roles that she played. She continued to act for the first two decades of the 19th century. Her funeral, which took place on 15 June 1831, drew over 5,000 mourners. Sarah Siddons was a mythical figure before her death, with countless visual representations being made of her as well as reviews, eulogies, letters and diary accounts. This portrait is one of two known painted by Beach, the other being 'Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble in 'Macbeth', Act 2, Scene ii' (1786, London Garrick Club). Both works show the artist's interest in the theatre. In comparison to the Garrick portrait, this representation is of a more intimate nature. The face emerges from a brown neutral background, allowing the artist to focus on the actresses' earnest expression. The hairstyle is not as highly dressed as in the Garrick portrait, however, both show the same expression of anguish. This could suggest that it was an oil sketch made at the same time as Beach painted 'Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble in 'Macbeth', Act 2, Scene ii'.