A year ago, in August, I wrote about two of my great-great grand-aunts, Alice Moore née Mainwaring (1852-1878) and Julia Wilkinson née Mainwaring (1857-1907), who in 1874 appeared in Shakespearean tableaux vivant, static ‘living pictures’ with live models.
Miss Alice Mainwaring of Whitmore appeared as Portia from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in tableaux arranged by James Sant, a Royal Academy portraitist. Julia Mainwaring appeared as Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tableaux arranged by Edward Matthew Ward, also a member of the Royal Academy. In April 1874 Alice was 21 and Julia was 17.
Today I was contacted with more information about these tableaux by a researcher with the ‘Shakespeare in the Royal Collection’, a project funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). This project concerns the Shakespeare-related holdings of the Royal Collection, primarily from the period 1714-1945.
The tableaux staged in 1874 were photographed by Alexander Bassano (1829-1913), a society photographer of the late nineteenth century. There are twenty-eight albumen prints of these tableaux in the Royal Collection.
The Shakespearean tableaux vivants were performed on 21 and 22 April 1874 in a small theatre at Cromwell House in South Kensington, the home of Charles James and Eliza Freake, to raise money for the National Orphan Home and the Victoria Hospital for Sick Children. The scenes were presented by noted artists, including the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais. There was music too, with original compositions by Arthur Sullivan. Henry Irving gave dramatic recitations. The guests of honour were the Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, and the newly-wed Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred and his wife the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia.
The album of prints came into the Royal Collection from the collection of Prince Alfred, quite likely presented to him as a memento of the event to which he and his wife had given their patronage.
Scene from The Merchant of Venice: “What find I here, fair Portia’s counterfeit.”
A group of four performers recreating a scene from The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, scene 2. They are Alice Mainwaring as Portia, Sarah Fanny Sant as Nerissa, Arthur Ram as Bassanio and Alfred J. de Sterne as Gratiano. The tableau depicts the moment when Bassanio successfully passes the casket test by locating Portia’s miniature. Bassanio is on one knee, studying the miniature; Portia stands behind him with her hands clasped, perhaps in prayer, while Gratiano and Nerissa observe. Like the other tableaux in this set, this scene includes some elaborate early modern costumes, but this scene uses a backdrop and furniture resembling a Victorian interior, and Portia’s costume combines a mixture of Victorian and Renaissance fashions.
Scene from The Merchant of Venice: “This house, these servants and this same myself are yours, my lord”
A group of four performers recreating a scene from The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, scene 2. They are Alice Mainwaring as Portia, Sarah Fanny Sant as Nerissa, Arthur Ram as Bassanio and Alfred J. de Sterne as Gratiano. The caption directs primary attention to Bassanio and Portia on the right hand side: Bassanio is on one knee, holding Portia’s hands and evidently proposing marriage. To the left, Gratiano and Nerissa are apparently engaged in a different kind of negotiation: Gratiano leans in eagerly, one hand rested on Nerissa’s shoulder, while she recoils and fends him off with both hands.
Scene from The Merchant of Venice: “How far that little candle throws its beam…”
Sarah Fanny Sant and Alice Mainwaring posing as Nerissa and Portia from The Merchant of Venice Act 5, scene 1. Both figures are elaborately costumed; Portia wears a voluminous travelling cloak and Nerissa is clutching a book. Portia gestures towards the left of the frame. Behind the figures, a trompe-l’oeil backdrop portrays the exterior of a large house.
These three tableaux were ‘arranged’ by the Royal Academician James Sant, who was well known for his portraits of women and children.
The Daily Telegraph of 21 April 1874 reported: “In Mr. Sant’s scenes from “The Merchant of Venice” the colouring is once more most effective, and there will be praise in store for the Portia of Miss Alice Mainwaring of Whitmore, and the most effective Jessica of Miss Tennant.”
Scene from Romeo and Juliet: “Do thou but close our hands with holy words”
G.V. Boyle, Julia Mainwaring and Colonel Henry Armytage posing as Romeo, Juliet and Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet Act 2, scene 6—the wedding scene. The young lovers kneel facing one another and holding hands, while the friar stands over them with his hands over them in blessing. All three figures wear sixteenth-century costume. Behind them, a trompe-l’oeil backdrop suggests the interior of a stone building, with sunlight beaming through a window.
Scene from Romeo and Juliet: “Take thou this phial”
Julia Mainwaring and Colonel Henry Armytage posing as Juliet and Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet Act 4, scene 1. Juliet sits on a bench, one hand clutched to her chest in alarm, as the friar, standing, passes her the potion that will allow her to appear dead.
The Daily Telegraph commented “An innovation has been suggested by Mr. E. M. Ward, R.A., by clothing his Juliet in startling colours of green and orange, instead of the conventional white satin: but the scenes from the well-known play were heartily applauded and appreciated.”
These two tableaux were ‘arranged’ by the Royal Academician Edward Matthew Ward, an artist specialising in historical and genre painting. He had painted two pictures of scenes from Romeo and Juliet and the tableaux reproduced these paintings.
I am pleased to have more information about these tableaux and the photographs to add to my posts of August last year.
Related posts and further reading
- Shakespearean Tableaux enacted at Cromwell House, 1874, in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh; photographed by Alexander Bassano: album in the Royal Collection Trust
- “Shakespearian Tableaux at Cromwell House.” Daily Telegraph, 21 Apr. 1874, p. 5. The Telegraph Historical Archive
- “SHAKSPERIAN TABLEAUX AT CROMWELL HOUSE.” Morning Post, 22 Apr. 1874, p. 6. British Library Newspapers
- “Shakespearian Tableaux.” Times, 23 Apr. 1874, p. 7. The Times Digital Archive
- “TABLEAUX VIVANTS AT SOUTH KENSINGTON.” Era, 26 Apr. 1874. British Library Newspapers
Interesting. I have read about tableau in old novels but hadn’t seen any. Of course these were much more elaborate.
And finding more information and photos is always nice!
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These photographs are truly amazing! And how excellent that they are in a collection with a staff that is able to provide you with so much detail. These photographs, together with the color portraits, paint an exciting picture of your great-great grandaunts. You must have been thrilled to find them!
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Anne Young said:
I am now trying to work out how the Mainwaring girls came to be involved – who did they know in that group?
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That will be interesting research!
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