The First Actresses, an exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery celebrating the first women to take to the stage in Britain following the Restoration in 1660, has set tongues wagging in the major UK newspapers. Focusing largely on two portraits of Nell Gwynn, an actress and mistress of King Charles II, The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Daily Telegraph have all weighed in with praise for the exhibition. From The Times (subscription required):
From Lely to Lawrence, the leading artists of the day took them into their studios, the singers and dancers as well as the actresses, there to capture to our enduring benefit something at least of what it was they had, that so charmed their world. ...
Yet this is a show not about them, but about the beautiful and talented women they celebrated ... and first among them all, lovely Nell Gwyn. The full package indeed.
In October, the University of Michigan Press published Gil Perry, Joseph Roach, and Shearer West's The First Actresses: From Nell Gwynn to Sarah Siddons to coincide with the NPG's exhibition. The book offers new insights on the often controversial nature of women on the stage in Restoration theatre and examines how celebrity culture emerged around female performers in the 18th century.