Dame Ellen Terry
Other work on paper
Ophelia : Hamlet
Pencil on wove paper
R. H. Benson, by whom presented to the Garrick Club, 1928
CKA 614 (artist unknown, no character)
A series of photographs published by Window & Grove, 1879; Watts Gallery pencil on wove paper 24 x 16.5 s. and d. "1879"
The sitter, shown head and shoulders, wears a V-necked dress or jacket.
George Frederick Watts was fascinated by the young Ellen Terry, who he had come to know through her visits to Little Holland House in Carshalton Surrey. Watts had been installed there by his patron Mrs Thoby Prinsep, and he had created his studio in a little annex. It was decided that 16 year old Terry should sit for Watts, and she soon became fascinated by the artist and his world "full of pictures and music and gentle, artistic people with quiet voices and elegant manners." At first he considered adopting her, but on 20th February 1864, when she was still not quite 17 and he 30 years her senior, they were married. However the marriage was to be turbulent and did not fulfil the young girl's dreams, and less than a year later was terminated.
During that period Watts was to paint Terry several times, and perhaps most famously in "Choosing" [oil on strawboard 47.2x35.4, National Portrait Gallery, London NPG 5048]; it was during this time he began to paint his "Ophelia" [oil on canvas c.76x63] which is now in the Watts Gallery; not exhibited until 1881 when he mounted his own one-man show, he was to return to the canvas throughout the intervening years.
After the failure of her marriage, Terry, who had been a child actor, returned to the stage. In 1878 she would star alongside Sir Henry Irving in his highly acclaimed production of "Hamlet" at the Lyceum Theatre, London, which opened on 30th December and ran for 108 performances. Lewis Carol described the performance in his own inimitable style, when he declared, "Irving rather spoiled Hamlet by his extraordinary English. Ellen Terry as Ophelia was simply perfect." Watts is known to have been to the theatre to see her "Ophelia" on at least one occasion, and sent Terry a sketch he had made of her, taken from a Window & Grove photograph. Another can be found in the Watts Museum. They can be interpreted as sketches for his then as yet unexhibited "Ophelia", but they also reflect his continued fascination with Ellen Terry.