February 27, 2015

February 27, 1847: Born, Ellen Terry

Choosing: Ellen Terry at the age of 16. The portrait
 was painted by George Frederic Watts, whom she would
soon marry. The painting depicts a young girl making a
 choice between worldly vanities. She appears to be leaning
toward the showy but scentless camellias, and ignoring
the humble but fragrant violets in her other hand.
Born into a theatrical family, Ellen Terry was already an accomplished actress when she met artist George Frederic Watts. Watts was enchanted with her beauty, and painted her several times, including the lovely Choosing shown above. They married when Terry was just a few days shy of her 17th birthday. Watts was 46.

The marriage didn't last long, and Terry was soon back on the stage. Her marriage to Watts had granted her access to many famous and distinguished people, among them Robert Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, photographer Margaret Cameron, and both William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. The Pre-Raphaelites also found her enchanting, and Oscar Wilde wrote a sonnet in her honor.

Terry lived with architect/essayist Edward William Godwin for a while, and bore him two children. They could not marry as she was not yet divorced from Watts. Later they did divorce, however, and Terry was married twice again, both times to fellow actors.

Terry's greatest fame was achieved for the roles she did opposite Henry Irving. They may have also been lovers -- Terry apparently told an interviewer that they had been. What is certain is that they were the most famous acting couple in the world.

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