Dame Ellen Terry

(1847 – 1928)

Ellen Terry first appeared on stage as a child of nine in 1856. Regarded in due course as the greatest English actress of the period, she began performing with actor Henry Irving in 1867 and played many leading roles in Irving’s productions between 1878 and 1896.

Known as Choosing, this delicately sensuous portrait shows the seventeen-year-old sitter choosing between the camellias—symbolizing worldly vanities—with which she is surrounded, and the small bunch of violets in her left hand—symbolizing innocence and simplicity. She married the artist of this painting, George Frederic Watts, who was thirty years her senior, in 1864, but they separated the following year.

By George Frederic Watts (1817 – 1904)
Oil on strawboard mounted on Gatorfoam, circa 1864
National Portrait Gallery, London
© National Portrait Gallery, London