The First Actresses at the National Portrait Gallery which opened last month.
The exhibition is small but packs a great punch. Upon entering you are greeted by Nell Gwyn's portraits by Verelst. The first is one of the more recognizable images of the King's mistress but the second, showing Nell in state of undress, has been loaned from a private collection and shows just how stunning the comedic actress was. Upon seeing this boudoir portrait you have already made your visit worthwhile. The rest of the exhibition featured so many portraits that I have included in blog posts I felt like I was actually walking into the Gossip Guide! The rooms were separated into categories having to do with themes such as Covent Garden and the actresses as a muse. Who was there? Well, anyone who is anybody, my pet! Hester Santlow tipping her harlequin cap welcomed guests into the menagerie of eighteenth-century actresses. Mary 'Perdita' Robinson, Fanny Abington, Dorothy Jordan, Kitty Clive, Elizabeth Linley Sheridan, Sarah Siddons, Lavinia Fenton, Giovanna Baccelli, and Hester Booth are just a sampling of the wide range of ladies seen through the paint and pencil of artists such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Hogarth, Hoppner, Gardner, and Russell. Even the beautiful Duchess was there in Gardner's depiction of her, Lady Melbourne and Anne Damer as the three witches- it is the first time in ages that the work has been on public display and now it will hopefully stay that way as a new acquisition for the museum.
The First Actresses will be at the National Portrait Gallery until 8 January so do not hesitate to see the exhibition. For those who cannot possibly manage to get to the show, the exhibition catalog is currently on sale for £19.50 and has fun essays on things like dancing and celebrity (hopefully I will have a review up in a timely manner).