Ellen Terry: The Painter's Actress

Paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and film trace the story of Britain’s most famous Victorian actress – from emerging teenage starlet to cultural icon.

Ellen Terry was born into a theatrical family and made regular stage appearances alongside her parents and older sister, Kate, from the age of eight.

In 1863 the girls took on roles at London’s Haymarket Theatre. Kate's performance was met with great success and she was invited to sit for renowned portrait artist of the age, G.F. Watts. Ellen accompanied her on the visit and Watts decided he would paint both of them instead – The Sisters was the result. Over the following months Watts made Ellen the star of a series of paintings and drawings, which have been reunited for this exhibition. 

In 1864, aged just 16, Ellen married the 46 year old artist. She said that the experience of sitting for Watts made the stage seem 'a poor place' and – as young actresses typically did upon marriage – she renounced her stage career and became his muse. 

Their relationship lasted for less than a year, but Watt’s paintings of his young wife have been described as 'his most glorious visions on canvas'. They include Watchman, What of the Night? in which he casts her as Joan of Arc, and Choosing, where she wears the brown silk wedding dress designed for her by William Holman Hunt. 

The exhibition is timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of their marriage.

Don't miss

As well as the grand and dramatic portraits featuring Ellen in a variety of different guises, the exhibition also includes some of the intimate drawings Watts made of her between 1863-4. These are among his most memorable works on paper.


Venue details

Watts Gallery - Artists' Village Guildford Down Lane, Compton, Guildford Surrey GU3 1DQ 01483 810235 www.wattsgallery.org.uk

Entry details

£3.75 with National Art Pass (standard entry £7.50)

Tue – Sun, 11am – 5pm

Closed Mon (except Bank Holidays)