Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse
Sarah Kemble (1755-1831) was the sister of John Philip and Charles Kemble (see their portraits by Beechey, DPG111, and Briggs, DPG291). She married William Siddons in 1773. After a triumphant success at Drury Lane in 1782 she became the leading tragic actress in the country, until her retirement from the stage in 1812. Mrs Siddons is represented here as the Tragic Muse (Melpomene), whose attributes of a dagger and cup are held by allegorical figures of Pity and Terror. The treatment was possibly suggested by W. Russell's poem of 1783 The Tragic Muse: A Poem Addressed to Mrs Siddons. The pose, which according to the actress's own account she struck spontaneously, appears to be based on Domenichino's Saint John the Evangelist (Glyndeboume, Sussex). This painting is a replica of Reynolds's original of 1784 now in the Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, and was painted for Noel Desenfans (see Northcote DPG28) in exchange for a painting by Rubens.