celestialmazer: THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF A DRESS Restored dress as…

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014



Restored dress as worn by Ellen Terry in her 1888 portayal of Lady Macbeth.

“When Ellen starred alongside Henry Irving in Macbeth in 1888, there was not a wide choice of fabrics available in England, and Alice could not find the colours she wanted to achieve her effects. She wanted one dress to ‘look as much like soft chain armour as I could, and yet have something that would give the appearance of the scales of a serpent.’ (Mrs. J. Comyns Carr’s ‘Reminiscences’. London: Hutchinson, 1926) Mrs. Nettlship found a twist of soft green silk and blue tinsel in Bohemia and this was crocheted to achieve the chain mail effect.

The dress hung beautifully but: ‘we did not think that it was brilliant enough, so it was sewn all over with real green beetle wings, and a narrow border in Celtic designs, worked out in rubies and diamonds, hemmed all the edges. To this was added a cloak of shot velvet in heather tones, upon which great griffens were embroidered in flame-coloured tinsel. The wimple, or veil, was held in place by a circlet of rubies, and two long plaits twisted with gold hung to her knees.’

the history blog.
the guardian

What Cersei would wear

Thanks for posting this! I love learning more about this dress and its history.

[Now hijacking to gush about the portrait, which fascinates me.]

John Singer Sargent painted Miss Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth in 1889. It was still early in his career as a portraitist; he had largely recovered from the scandal surrounding Portrait of Madame X, but commissions were still relatively few.

He attended the opening night performance of Macbeth and almost immediately began asking Terry if he could paint her in the role. At first she resisted. In January 1889, Sargent wrote to another recent portrait subject (and patron) of his, Isabella Stewart Gardner:

Miss Terry has just come out in Lady Macbeth and looks magnificent in it, but she has not yet made up her mind to let me paint her in one of the dresses until she is quite convinced that she is a success. From a pictorial point of view there can be no doubt about it – magenta hair! 

The play, with Terry as Lady Macbeth, was a sensation, playing to packed houses for more than six months, and Terry soon gave Sargent permission to go ahead. The pose, in which she holds the crown aloft, was Sargent’s invention; it didn’t appear in the play.

The painting was exhibited in the spring of 1889. It created controversy, with some objecting to its realism. The critic for Athenaeum wrote:

The lady raises the crown to her brow with passion which would be quite admissible in the portrait of a fine actress in such a character, if the sensational elements in her acting and the coarseness of her surroundings — down to the blue and green of her robes, layers of stage paint on her face, lips contorted to move the pit, eyes shining in the footlights’ glare — had not been dwelt upon in a way at which the visitor will shudder. This is painting for the pit.

The critic for the Saturday Review wrote:

There is no attempt to idealize the subject, no thought of giving us Lady Macbeth herself; it is strictly and limitedly Miss Ellen Terry in that particular part, made as real underneath her stage artificiality as the painter knows how to make her.

Others were more positive. The Magazine of Art wrote:

No portrait has been exhibited for some years which excels this in grandeur of pose, fineness of modeling, and magnificence of colour.

For herself, Ellen Terry loved the portrait. In her autobiography she wrote:

One of Mrs. Nettle’s greatest triumphs was my Lady Macbeth dress, which she carried out from Mrs. Cosmyn Carr.  I am glad to think it is immortalised in Sargent’s picture.  From the first I knew that picture was going to be splendid.  In my diary for 1888 I was always writing about it:  

“The picture of me is nearly finished, and I think it is magnificent.  The green and blue of the dress is splendid,  and the expression as Lady Macbeth holds the crown over her head is quite wonderful …” 

“Sargent’s picture is almost finished, and it really is splendid.  Burne-Jones yesterday suggested two or three alterations about the colour which Sargent immediately adopted, but Burne Jones raves about the picture …” 

“Sargent’s picture is talked of everywhere and quarrelled about as much as my way of playing the part …” 

“Sargent’s Lady Macbeth in the New Gallery is a great success.  The picture is the sensation of the year.  Of course, opinions differ about it, but there are dense crowds round it day after day.” 

Since then it has gone nearly over the whole of Europe and is now resting for life in the Tate Gallery.  Sargent suggested by this picture all that I should have liked to be able to convey in my acting as Lady Macbeth.

Fun fact: The 10,000 beetle wings sewn into the costume are from Sternocera aequisignata, a green jewel beetle used for traditional beetlewing adornment in Thailand.

Reposted from http://ift.tt/1s9rDGY.