Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014

 

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, by John Singer Sargent (1889)
Tate Britain, London

 “I’d always thought she looked more like a mermaid than a queen.”

—Kate Stanley, in Haunt Me Still

The last time I saw Sargent’s great painting of Ellen Terry, it occupied — or maybe possessed — an entire room in the Tate Britain, a high-ceilinged, round vestibule which gave Lady M the appearance of working magic alone in some high, bright tower. At least, that’s how it seems in my memory.

 

 

In the painting, Terry wears the costume she wore for her famous incarnation of the Scottish Queen, which opened at London’s Lyceum Theatre in December, 1888, with Henry Irving playing the King to her Queen. Made from a thousand shimmering wings from the green jewel beetle, the gown has been newly restored. It’s on display at her country cottage in Kent, Smallhythe Place. If that’s too far to go, you can find more pictures of the dress, plus some detailed discussion of its making at Glass of Fashion.

Turning to sit, I saw on a hook by the door a shimmering length of blue silk, scaled like dragon. Knife in hand, I stared at it as if at a ghost.

 

“Ellen Terry’s Lady M costume,” said Lady Nairn with some amusement. “Or an approximation thereof. Made of silk embroidered with beetle wings. How perfect is that, for a queen who was a witch in all but name? Though perhaps the beetles would disagree.”

 

Haunt Me Still





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