One of John Singer Sargent’s most famous portraits is that of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, which he painted in 1889. Terry played the iconic Shakespearean character in Henry Irving’s production the previous year, and Sargent admired her performance enough to ask her to sit for a portrait. However, instead of simply portraying Terry in costume, Sargent invented a dramatic pose that did not occur in the actual production.
The resulting painting depicts Terry in a green dress adorned with beetle wings and placing a crown on her head. The dress was designed by Alice Comyns-Carr and was considered sensational at the time due to its intricate details and unique use of materials. Similarly, Sargent’s portrait was regarded as the sensation of the year when it was exhibited.
Terry herself was impressed with both the dress and Sargent’s painting, calling it “a work of art beyond any other.” The portrait captured not only her physical likeness but also conveyed her complex character as Lady Macbeth. Today, several replicas exist, but the original painting is held at Tate Britain in London.
Suggested Format: Artwork Description and Analysis