Mrs Siddons (1785)

Gainsborough, Thomas (1727-1788)

Mrs Siddons
Oil on canvas, 126 × 99.5 cm
National GalleryLondon

Mrs Siddons (1755–1831) was the greatest tragic actress of her time, remaining at the top of her profession for 30 years. Gainsborough painted her in the winter of 1784–5, during her third London season.

Most of Mrs Siddons’s earlier portraits depict her in character, but Gainsborough portrayed her off-stage and in fashionable contemporary dress. She wears a black beaver hat trimmed with ribbon and ostrich feathers, and a blue striped ‘wrapping-gown’, yellow mantle and fox-fur muff. Gainsborough apparently found some difficulty in capturing Mrs Siddons’s distinctive features, and is said to have exclaimed: ‘Confound the nose, there’s no end to it!’

At the time Gainsborough painted her, Mrs Siddons was playing the greatest of all her roles – Lady Macbeth. Something of the power and passion of that part can be felt in the portrait, considered by some as the artist’s masterpiece. (NG)

See also:

• Siddons, Sarah (1755-1831)