The Lady Was Sir Galahad: The Story of Ellen Terry
If you came here looking for info about From Eroica With Love, the blog migration moved those posts here.
This famous 1862 painting of Sir Galahad by George Frederick Watts was modeled on the artist’s wife, an actress named Ellen Terry. Terry’s beauty gave Galahad the androgynous purity Watts wanted to convey in this contemplative portrait.
The original Sir Galahad is housed at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard.
Watts’s Sir Galahad became a symbol of the British warrior, used to memorialize the pure and noble spirit of fallen soldiers.
The painting was reproduced in stained glass at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight.
Model Ellen Terry was only 16 years old, already an accomplished stage actress, when she married the 46-year-old Watts.
Here she is in Choosing, another portrait by Watts.
The marriage was not a success. Terry regretted leaving the stage, and left her husband after only 10 months. She went on to become one of the most successful women in the history of theater with a career spanning more than 50 years.
Ellen Terry may be the only person in history to portray both the stainless Sir Galahad and the sinful Queen Guinevere. A production of the play King Arthur, written by Comyns Carr, was designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne Jones. Here is Terry as Guinevere in promotional photographs from the show:
A scene from the play, which must have been quite a spectacle. It ran for over 100 performances at the Haymarket Theater, and toured the USA.
Ellen Terry was best known for her roles in Shakespearean plays. Her turn as Lady Macbeth was immortalized in this painting by John Singer Sergeant.
Terry’s beauty was the inspiration for many artists in the Pre-Raphaelite circle. She modeled for Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the first and most prominent of 19th century photographers. This shot has a remarkably modern feeling.
I used to have a lovely volume which collected the work of Cameron. I sold it back in my starving artist days. I still regret that.
Ellen Terry’s colorful and romantic life is well documented online, but you might enjoy downloading this free, public domain copy of her autobiography The Story of My Life which also has a file of many wonderful photos and paintings of her in her theatrical splendor.
Terry’s family of famous actors walked the boards of the British stage for more than a century. She is the great aunt of actor Sir John Gielgud.
All images used in this article are in the public domain and are scanned from items in my personal collection or from online resources. A photo gallery resource can be found here. The UK National Portrait Gallery Archives are here.
Thanks for reading.