Located on Paddington Green, this statue of 18th century theatrical luminary Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was unveiled by fellow thespian Sir Henry Irving on 14th June, 1897, who apparently noted that, Shakespeare aside, Siddons was the first actor to be immortalised with a statue in London.

It is also said to be the first outdoor statue erected in London of a non-royal woman.

Seated in a pose apparently inspired by Joshua Reynolds’ 1784 painting, Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (now in California), the marble statue, which sits on a Portland stone plinth, is the work of French sculptor Leon-Joseph Chavailliaud.

The location was apparently selected due to the fact Siddons lived at Westbourne Green from 1805 to 1817 and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard next to Paddington Green.

The Grade II-listed statue, which was paid for by public subscription, is sadly now need of a makeover – Mrs Siddons is missing a nose.

There is, incidentally, another, earlier, statue of Mrs Siddons in London – this larger-than-life work, is located in the chapel of St Andrew in Westminster Abbey’s north transept.

The work of sculptor Thomas Campbell, it features a standing Mrs Siddons, and dates from 1845.

PICTURE: Stephencdickson (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

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The most acclaimed tragic actress of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Sarah Siddons is best remembered for her iconic role as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.

Born in 1755 into the theatrical Kemble family (her father was an actor and theatre manager and many of her 11 younger siblings, including John Philip Kemble, also went on to be actors) in Brecon, Wales, Siddons first began appearing with Kemble’s company while still at school. Still only a young teenager, she also began a romance with one of the company’s actors, William Siddons.

The liaison was discouraged by her parents (as was the idea of her acting) and in 1770 she was sent into service with a family in Warwick. She had kept up correspondence with Siddons, however, and, after her parents withdrew their opposition to the match, they were married on 26th November, 1773.

The couple rejoined Kemble’s company initially but were soon working for another, Chamberlain and Crump, and it was while doing so in the spa town of Cheltenham that Siddons’ abilities came to the notice of famed actor, playwright and theatre manager David Garrick.

Invited to London, her initial foray into acting there, however, fell flat and, following a short-lived season at Drury Lane Theatre which resulted in her services no longer being required (it is believed the fact she had two very young children at the time, having only just given birth to the second, didn’t help her performances), Siddons instead headed to the country and worked in places like York, Manchester and Bath, rebuilding her somewhat battered reputation.

It proved a successful move for when she was invited back to London in 1782, her now not just restored but blossoming reputation preceded her. To much acclaim she performed in the title role in David Garrick’s play, Isabella, or, the Fatal Marriage.

It was to be the first of many high profile roles – the most famous of which was to play Lady Macbeth – and Siddons soon rose to become the most sought-after actress in the city, a position which allowed her to mix among the elite of society (among her friends were counted lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson and philosopher Edmund Burke and she even appeared before King George III and Queen Charlotte). Venerated as a “cultural icon”, her star continued to climb in the 1780s and it was in 1783-84 that she sat for a portrait, The Tragic Muse, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (pictured).

Her personal life, meantime, was another matter and in 1804, Siddons and her husband – who had increasingly spent time apart during the preceding years, formally separated (William died in Bath four years later). She had also experienced the deaths of many of her children – in fact, only two of her seven children were to outlive her.

Siddons retired from the stage in 1812 – her final moving performance was, you guessed it, as Lady Macbeth – but continued to appear on special occasions until 1819.

She died in June, 1831, and, following a huge funeral, was buried at St Mary’s Cemetery at Paddington Green. There is a statue of her at the grave. Siddons is among those actresses currently featured in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition The First Actresses – Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

For further reading – Robyn Asleson’s A Passion for Performance: Sarah Siddons and Her Portraitists

PICTURE: Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse by the Studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1784  © National Portrait Gallery, London

• A new exhibition featuring some of London’s leading ladies of the eighteenth century opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons is the first exhibition devoted to eighteenth century actresses and features 53 portraits depicting the likes of Gwyn and Siddons as well as Lavinia Fenton, Mary Robinson and Dorothy Jordan. Highlights of the exhibition include a little known version of Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sarah Siddons as the “tragic muse”, William Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera and Thomas Gainsborough’s portraits of Giovanna Bacelli and Elizabeth Linley. The exhibition reveals the key role these women played in the celebrity culture found in London (and elsewhere) during the period. As a counterpoint, an accompanying exhibition displays photographs and paintings of some of today’s actresses. Runs until 8th January (an admission charge applies). For more information on the exhibition or the programme of accompanying events, see www.npg.org.uk.

Cemetery in Hackney and Kensal Green, a park in Hounslow and a Piccadilly property formerly used as the Naval and Military Club are among the “priority sites” listed on English Heritage’s annual Heritage At Risk Register. Released earlier this week, the register’s 10 London”risk priority sites” include London’s first metropolitan cemetery – Kensal Green (All Souls) – which dates from 1833, Gunnersbury Park in West London – featuring a large country home known as Gunnersbury Park House, it was built in 1801-28 and later remodelled, and a mansion at 94 Piccadilly – built in 1756-60 for Lord Egremont, it was later used at the Military and Naval Club and is now for sale. Others on the list include Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney – laid out in 1840, it is described as London’s most important Nonconformist cemetery, a medieval manor farm barn in Harmondsworth in London’s outer west, Tide Mill in Newham, East London, and the entire Whitechapel High Street and Stepney Green conservation areas. For more information, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/caring/heritage-at-risk/.

On Now: The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography. Opening at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, tomorrow, the exhibition marks the centenary of Captain Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole and features a collection of photographs presented to King George V by the official photographers on Scott’s expedition of 1910-13 and Ernest Shackleton’s expedition of 1914-16 as well as unique artifacts including the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (the widow of King Edward VII) which was taken to the Pole. Highlights include Herbert Ponting’s images The ramparts of Mount Erebus and The freezing of the sea and Frank Hurley’s stunning images of Shackleton’s ship Endurance as it was crushed by ice. Runs until 15th April, 2012 (admission charge applied). For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

London will this weekend celebrate the 15th annual Thames Festival, billed as the city’s “largest free festival”. The two day event includes a giant shipwreck sculpture outside City Hall (created with the aid of students from 100 London schools), barge races and a parade of more than 100 boats on the Thames, a wide array of musical and street performances (these include a mass choir of 700 school children and a performance in which the HMS Belfast is used as a percussion instrument) and an illuminated Night Carnival culminating in fireworks. More than 800,000 people are expected to attend the event which takes place at a range of venues stretching from the London Eye to Tower Bridge. Other highlights include the annual Feast on the Bridge on Saturday during which Southwark Bridge will be closed to traffic, Korean Taekwondo displays, a food market and an exclusive cruise on the Thames hosted by the likes of historian David Starkey and the creators of cult children’s character Rastamouse. River boat operators, meanwhile, are offering 2-for-1 tickets for the weekend to help people make the most of the festival. For more information on the festival, see www.thamesfestival.org. For more on the 2 for 1 tickets, see www.tfl.gov.uk/river.

Regent Street and surrounds will be buzzing tonight with more than 40 shops, bars and restaurants taking part in Vogue Fashion’s Night Out. The event, which is running for its third year in London, will see many stores remaining opening until 11pm and feature special events and promotions. The night is part of a series of nights being held in countries across the globe – from Russia to Brazil, Australia to Spain. For more information, see http://fashions-night-out.vogue.co.uk.

An art deco Tube train dating from 1938 and the Sarah Siddons, the last operational ex-Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive will be running between Harrow-on-the-Hill, Rickmansworth and Amersham this Sunday as part of the Amersham Old Town’s Heritage Day. Other activities include a best dressed competition showcasing retro fashions, a free heritage bus service, including rides on the Routemaster RM1, street performances including a Punch and Judy show and clowns, and “object handling sessions” at the Amersham Museum. For more information, see the London Transport Museum’s website here.