John Singer Sargent
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889
Tate Britain, London
Once again ... this is the story of a beetle wings dress. This time it's a stage costume, which once created a great sensation. The use of glamorous and glittering beetle wings as a Victorian costume decoration was not just a manifestation of the 19th-century décor aesthetics. On the doorsteps of Edwardian fashion age the world was struck by impressive drama and marvelous stage performance costume that caused a sensation. Indeed. What a great combination!
The famous British actress Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) was immortalized in the role of Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent who made a painted portrait of her just after attendance of the play "Macbeth". Sargent was one of the most famous society painters of the late 19th century. He attended the premiere of the new production of the play "Macbeth" at the Lyceum Theater in London on December 29, 1888... The painter was deeply thrilled at the sight of Ellen Terry in the role of Lady Macbeth. The famous American painter was deeply impressed by the depiction of the role of Lady Macbeth. And, of course, he was thrilled by the look of British actress and her iridescent greenish blue stage costume that was embroidered with the glittering beetle wings.
Shortly after the show, followed an invitation to pose for the creation of the portrait. In 1889, the world became acquainted with a completely different lady Macbeth! Her dramatically highlighted posture, holding a crown of the next Scottish Queen raised above head, was Sargent's invention and as such, it was not seen previously in the "Macbeth"
Legendary Stage Costume
Lady Macbeth's dress before restoration
So, Ellen Terry wore the legendary glittering green beetle wing stage costume that caused such a sensation... The Celtic Queen's dress with long, downward wrapped sleeves, a simple cut line and a low-waisted, heavy metal belt were inspired by Pre-raffaelite Movement and a Medieval atmosphere. Also it was a direct echo of the ideal of the Aesthetic Movement, so well-known at that time. As such it glorified the steam of the Medieval and early Italian Renaissance epoch. A particularly dramatic sentiment was also attributed to the deep red velvet cape with the relics of the heraldic golden glittering griffins / Scottish lions.
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My name is Edīte Parute and I am a fashion historian and researcher from Latvia, association member at "The Association of Dress Historians" (UK) and author of the book "Stila un modes enciklopēdija"/"Encyclopedia of Style and Fashion" (2010) as well as author of many publications.