Location: Paddington Green, London
Artist: Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud
Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was a Welsh-born English actress and the most famous tragedienne of the 18th century. She was an acting sensation, dominating the London theatre scene. Sarah Siddons became the undisputed Queen of Dury Lane.
By the mid 1780's, Siddons had already established herself as a cultural icon, named 'mythical and monumental'. Sarah invented a new category of femininity in the practise of acting for generations of actresses to embody, she is also credited for promoting textural accuracy above the theatrical traditions of the time. Siddons is unique for making herself familiar with the entire script, sitting off stage in order to hear the entire play in full, paying careful attention to her scene partners and to textural cues that could aid performances. Siddons was cleverly able to blur the lines between the characters on stage with representations of herself off stage. She had the ability to present herself in a duality to her admirers, at once she had the ability to project both the divine and ordinary, domestic and authoritative, fantastic and real.
Siddons most famous role was 'Lady McBeth' spell bounding the audience through the grandeur of her emotions through her expression of the character. Instead of portraying Lady McBeth as a murderous evil queen, Siddons depicted her with a strong sense of maternity and a delicate femininity . As she noted in her own 'Remarks to the character of Lady McBeth' Siddons found an unearthed fragility within the role. It was in Lady McBeth that Siddons found the highest scope of her acting abilities. She was tall and had a striking figure, brilliant beauty, powerfully expressive eyes and solemn dignity of demeanour that let her take this character as her own.
Siddons avoided any claims of sexual licentiousness and the only damage to her career came towards the end when satirical prints began to emerge detailing the physical decline and stoutness of her body. She had a unique ability to control her public image, even in the 1700's she was very aware of an audiences ability to love or destroy her.
"Alas, how wretched is the being who depends on the stability of public favour"- Sarah Siddons
Her statue, by French sculptor Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud, was unveiled in 1897 on Paddington Green and is based on a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds as ‘The Tragic Muse’. The sculptor wanted to portray her expressive and brilliant acting talent, that left audiences swooning out of the theatre.