The theatrical portrait in eighteenth century London
A theatrical portrait is an image of an actor or actors in character. This genre was widespread in eighteenth century London and was practised by a large number of painters and engravers of all levels of ability. The sources of the genre lay in a number of diverse styles of art, including the court portraits of Lely and Kneller and the fetes galantes of Watteau and Mercier. Three types of media for theatrical portraits were particularly prevalent in London, between c.1745 and 1800 : painting, print and book illustration. All three offered some form of publicity to the actor, and allowed patrons and buyers to recollect a memorable - performance of a play. Several factors governed the artist's choice of actor, character and play. Popular or unusual productions of plays were nearly always accompanied by some form of actor portrait, although there are eighteenth century portraits which do not appear to reflect any particular performance at all. Details of costume in these works usually reflected fashions of the contemporary stage, although some artists occasionally invented costumes to suit their own ends. Gesture and expression of the actors in theatrical portraits also tended to follow stage convention, and some definite parallels between gestures of actors in theatrical portraits and contemporary descriptions of those actors can be made. Theatrical portraiture on the eighteenth century model continued into the nineteenth century, but its form changed with the changing styles of acting. However the art continued to be largely commercial and ephemeral, and in its very ephemerality lies its importance as a part of the social history of the eighteenth century.