Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse

1784 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Dulwich Picture Gallery

Mrs Siddons was an infamous actress at a time when it was only just becoming acceptable for women to take the stage. Reynold’s dramatic portraiture, which often put his subjects on an artistic pedestal, playing to their whims in a ‘larger than life’ celebration, is particularly potent here. The actress in Mrs Siddons is expertly drawn out; she sits above us on stage, surrounded by mysticism and intrigue, encouraged by the smoke-like effect, created in the ripples of translucent fabric that line the floor, clouding beneath her. Tied to the stage, she sits on a wooden throne that rises from it, her vast skirts lost in the material mist they melt into. Her skin is lit from below, the blush and glow of warm orange; she is illuminated by the perfected atmospheric light that the stage candles would have provided. Her beauty is thus highlighted, in contrast to the shadowy figures of metaphors behind, ghostly in both their depiction and facial expressions. Her position also reflects her desired stature, the profile of her face gazing dramatically upwards in an expression of knowing self-worth. Her are arms duly posed, encouraged again by the luxurious swathes that cloak them, one draped across the arm of her chair, the other poised upward, ready to act in any needed action of theatrical expression.


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