Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New Exhibition: The First Actresses

Words cannot express how excited I am about an exhibition opening at London's National Portrait Gallery tomorrow.  The First Actresses is a celebration of the fascinating women (many written about on this blog) who took London by storm, when they ascended to the stage, a short while after it was even allowed for women to do so. According to the NPG's website,
"The First Actresses presents a vivid spectacle of femininity, fashion and theatricality in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Britain.

Taking centre stage are the intriguing and notorious female performers of the period whose lives outside of the theatre ranged from royal mistresses to admired writers and businesswomen. The exhibition reveals the many ways in which these early celebrities used portraiture to enhance their reputations, deflect scandal and create their professional identities."
The exhibition is not only monumental for the oeuvre but has acquired some amazing pieces that have been hidden away in private collections.  An erotically-charged portrait of a topless Nell Gwyn, the self-proclaimed "Protestant Whore," has been restored to its original state of toplessness.  Also on public display for the first time is the NPG's new acquisition, The Three Witches from Macbeth, which is quite special because now the museum finally has a adult depiction of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire in its collection.

The First Actresses opens tomorrow but I personally will have to patiently bide my time to see the exhibition since I am planning on attending its corresponding conference on 11 November.  Juicy details to follow!  Who else is planning on going?

Amanda Vickery's Review
Laura Barnett's Review


  1. I would love to go and see this! But sadly I am nowhere near London this autumn and have no plans of going there in the near future. But I will eagerly await all reviews and photos!

  2. I'm going to try and see this before it ends its run in January, but airfares are so expensive right now that I might have to live vicariously through you Heather!

  3. What a wonderful exhibition! I'd love to see it but I don't think I'll be able to go to London before it ends.

  4. please someone take pics and send them to this blog so we can marvel

  5. What a lovely exhibition. Iam going to find more about it online since I am unable to come to London and see it. To those of you who will be able to see it, enjoy it for us also.

  6. Amanda Vickery reviews the show for the Guardian:

    ' . . Nell Gwyn, still one of history's most famous Englishwomen, might justly claim to be the original female celebrity. Born in obscurity, barely literate and no conventional beauty (red headed and hazel eyed), Gwyn was as celebrated for her ready wit as her legs – which she revealed even when cast as an angel in The Virgin Mary.

    Within months of her debut, Nell was known to the public by her first name. In becoming mistress to Charles II, but never hoity toity, she became the people's Cinderella, and a Protestant one at that. "Nell" was both star and brand.'

  7. @Rob's Uncle, Did you notice I linked to the review at the end of the post? I am so jealous Amanda got a sneak peak!

  8. I found a brief article on the exhibit, written by an actress, from a different perspective. Also, the exhibit catalogue is on sale for 35% off! A poster and postcards, too. Katherine Louise