Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Incredible Allure of an Actress

Today, actresses are almost like the religious leaders of the past, their emotional influence is vast, to say the least.

Everyone wants to know everything about them as if they were a close friend, probably because in the silver screen we develop a deep connection with them, living their fears, anxieties and dreams.

Gemma Arterton, The Actress Now

Even glossy magazines break the ethics of the untold off the record, being a bit too intrusive and giving away too many details instead of using them to portray the character behind the image. It's hardly surprising actresses are more and more cautious when they're being interviewed.

Just because they're beautiful, talented and wealthy we imagine they have a perfect life, free of sorrow and negative events or we may want them to descend into chaos just because we envy their privileged spot.

Rosamund Pikeby, The Actress Now

We scrutinise their red carpet look and their everyday clothes, always demanding nothing less than perfection. And some of us want to be them or probably just want our 15 minutes of fame as Warhol predicted.

But if today actresses entered the realm of Greek Goddesses fuelled by powerful image manipulation and our obsession with money and power, in the past they were discriminated as demi-monde women, their reputation was often questionable.

Eleanor Nell Gwyn by Simon Verelst c. 1680, The First Actresses

Elizabeth Ann Sheridan was a talented musician and singer renowned for her voice, intelligence and beauty but her husband banned her from performing in public after their marriage.

Her portrait can be admired at the National Portrait Gallery, which today opens the first exhibition exploring art and theatre in eighteenth century England - The First Actresses

Women were only permitted to perform on the English stage in the early 1660s. Before this, there were no professional actresses and female roles were played by men or boys.

The Three Witches from Macbeth by Daniel Gardner, 1775

The exhibition shows large paintings of actresses in their celebrated stage roles, intimate and sensual off-stage portraits, and explore how they contributed to the growing reputation and professional status of leading female performers.

Their lives outside of the theatre ranged from Royal mistresses to successful writers and businesswomen and the exhibition reveals the many ways in which these early celebrities used portraiture to enhance their reputations, deflect scandal and create their professional identities.

Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner, 1782

Don't miss the free accompanying display of portraits of contemporary British actresses performing in theater, film and television - The Actress Now. It includes paintings of Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren and photographs of Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet and Thandie Newton.

The First Actresses
National Portrait Gallery
20 October 2011 - 8 January 2012

Other exhibitions
Postmodernism: Style and Subversion at V&A!
New Degas Exhibition at the Royal Academy of the Arts