One of the most spectacular costumes worn by Ellen Terry, the queen of the Victorian and Edwardian stage, has gone back on display at Smallhythe Place, in Kent.
Hand-coloured photograph of Ellen Terry as Imogen in 'Cymbeline', 1896. ©NTPL/John Hammond
Ellen Terry was famous for her dramatic roles, and to enhance her interpretation of Lady Macbeth in the late 1880s she wore an extraordinary emerald and sea green gown adorned with the iridescent wings of the jewel beetle.
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, by John Singer Sargent, at Smallhythe Place. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty
It gave her a silkily armoured, serpent-like appearance. She was portrayed wearing it by John Singer Sargent (one version of which is at Smallhythe, another, more finished, is at Tate Britain).
Smallhythe Place. ©NTPL/John Miller
The dress had been preserved at Smallhythe Place, the Kent cottage where Terry ended her days, but over time it had become increasingly fragile. Textile conservator Zenzie Tinker and her team were commissioned to restore the costume.
About 1,000 beetle wings were re-attached to the costume, both original ones and replacements that had been donated. The entire conservation process took 1,300 hours of work.
Now the beetle wing dress is back at Smallhythe, in a new contemporary display space, together with other items from Terry’s dressing room which have never been shown before.
“Fabulous, darling”, as Ellen Terry might have said.
Update: More images cane be seen here on the Daily Mail website.