English. Third Quarter of the Eighteenth Century.


Sight Size: Height: 8 1/2" (21.6 cm); Width: 8 1/2" (21.6 cm).
In Frame: Height: 13" (33 cm); Width: 13" (33 cm).

Pencil and chalk on paper.

Each inscribed on the back:
Mrs Hartley in Andromache Distrest [sic] Mother and Mrs Siddons in the Grecian Daughter

Estate of Paula Peyrauld

This pair of portraits depicts two of the most celebrated eighteenth century London actresses, Elizabeth Hartley (1751-1824), and Sarah Siddons (1755-1831). They are nearly identical to a pair of portraits of Hartley and Siddons done by the English painter and engraver John Keyse Sherwin (1751-1790) (figure 1).

Born Elizabeth White, and known as Mrs. Hartley, Elizabeth rose from humble beginnings. According to the October 1773 issue of the London Magazine, Elizabeth was engaged as a chambermaid where she began an affair with one of the masters of the household; he set up a private apartment for her and assumed the fictitious name of Hartley for himself so as not to be discovered, which Elizabeth adopted as her own as well.

As her paramour’s fortune dwindled, it was decided that she might try her hand at acting. After studying briefly with a professional instructor, Mrs. Hartley reputedly made her debut appearance at the theatre-royal in the Haymarket, where she performed the role of Imoinda in Oroonoko (or The Royal Slave), a love story of an African prince tricked into slavery. Early biographers state that she played this role in 1769 under the management of Samuel Foote, however no contemporary record for the performance exists in The London Stage.1 The first confirmed performance was on the stage at Edinburgh on 4 December 1771 where she took the role of Monimia in Thomas Ottoway’s The Orphan. She continued in Edinburgh for the season, performing in nearly a dozen plays between 1771-1772. Afterward she went to England where, throughout the 1770s and 1780s she took on some 50 roles at Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Liverpool and Stroud. Her legendary beauty was captured in portraits by leading artists of her time including George Romney, Angelica Kauffman, Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.