11122 A PAIR OF PORTRAITS OF THE GREAT ACTRESSES ELIZABETH HARTLEY AS ANDROMACHE IN THE DISTREST MOTHER, AND SARAH SIDDONS AS EUPHRASIA IN THE GRECIAN DAUGHTER, AFTER JOHN KEYSE SHERWIN
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.
One of the present portraits represents Hartley in the role of Andromache in Ambrose Phillips’ The Distrest [sic] Mother (1712), an adaptation of Jean Racine’s 1667 work Andromache, first performed at the court of Louis XIV for the Queen. Hartley played the role on the London stage in 1776.
The other portrait depicts Sarah Siddons (née Kemble). Born to a pair of performers, she started to appear on stage at age eleven with her father’s company. She married the actor William Siddons at the age of nineteen and began her career as the best-known tragedienne of the 18th century. Her portrayal of Belvidera in Venice Preserv’d moved its aristocratic audience to tears and she was recommended to David Garrick, who invited her to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. Entirely devoted to her craft, Siddons performed through several pregnancies, giving birth to her second child mid-way through a performance. In the off-season she performed in northern cities, but made a triumphant return to the London stage in 1782. Her portrayal of Euphrasia in the Grecian Daughter in that same year was extraordinarily successful, and it is in this role that the present portrait depicts Siddons.
“Sherwin…painted Siddons in the role immediately following her London debut and published an engraving of the picture on December 15, 1782. According to Sherwin’s assistant, John Tomas Smith, Siddons sat in the front room of the artist’s London house, with the curtains and shutters adjusted so as to modulate the dramatic play of light and shade over her striking features.”
This pair of portraits once formed part of the collection of Paula Fentress Peyrauld (1947-2008), considered the “largest collection in private hands of books, manuscripts, and images associated with the Georgian period (1760–1820).”3
Peyraud was born into an affluent and cultured family in Chappaqua, New York, which allowed her to pursue her literary, artistic and lingusitc passions. She studied French literature, art history, Spanish, Russian and Italian, and had a master’s degree in library science. Her professional career was spent as a reference librarian for the Chappaqua Public Library, but in her spare time she traveled to Europe, especially Britain, cultivating these interests.
She began to form her collection in the early 1970s with a focus on Georgian women writers including such Bluestocking heroines as Frances Burney, Hester Thrale Piozzi, Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters. Among the male authors represented in her collection, she held works by Alexander Pope, David Garrick, Horace Walpole and Edmond Burke.
- Burnim, Kalman A, and Philip H. Highfill. John Bell, Patron of British Theatrical Portraiture: A Catalog of the Theatrical Portraits in His Editions of Bell’s Shakespeare and Bell’s British Theatre. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998. 148.
- Asleson, Robyn, Shelley M. Bennett, Mark Leonard, and Shearer West. A Passion for Performance: Sarah Siddons and Her Portraitists. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999. 59
- Mulvihill, Maureen E. “Literary Property Changing Hands: The Peyraud Collection.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, Autumn 2009, vol. 23, no. 1 (2009).