Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice



    WILLIAM HAMILTON (British, 1751-1801)
    Portrait of Sarah Siddons as Zara, circa 1784
    Oil on canvas
    50 x 40 inches (127 x 101.6 cm)

    Mrs. Cecilia Siddons Combe (1794-1868), circa 1831 (daughter of the sitter, actress Sarah Kemble Siddons, 1755-1831);
    Mrs. Siddons Budge[o]n (by descent through Elizabeth Harriet Siddons Mair);
    Sale Sotheby's, London, February 5, 1947, lot 78 (as "The Property of Mrs. Siddons Budgen") to Mallet & Sons, London (dealer purchasing on behalf of William Randolph Hearst);
    William Randolph Hearst, California, from 1947 to 1949;
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art, acquired from the above August 20, 1949;
    Sotheby, Parke Bernet, Los Angeles, "An Auction of Property De-Accessioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to Benefit New Acquisitions," November 7, 1999, lot 176;
    Acquired from the above.

    Manchester, "Art Treasures Exhibition," 1857, no. 106, p. 81 (label on upper frame);
    London, "The Royal Academy Exhibition," 1876, no 62 (work seems to have been lent by E. J. Sartoris, husband to Adelaide Kemble, a relative of the sitter).

    P. Highfill, K. Burnim, and E. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800, Southern Illinois University Press, 1973, vol. 14, p. 63, no. 330;
    E. Waterhouse, The Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters in oils and crayons, Antique Collectors' Club, 1981, p. 158, this painting reproduced in black and white.

    LABELS (verso):

    1. "Exhibition of Art Treasures" 1857, label with 'George Combe, Esq.' written in pencil (on upper center frame).
    n.b. The sitter's daughter, Cecilia Siddons married George Combe (1788-1858) in 1833. The couple had no children.

    2. 'Mrs. Siddons / Miss Mair' paper label, '319' in pencil and unidentified red pencil marks (on upper stretcher center).
    n.b. Elizabeth Harriet Siddons (1804) married Major Arthur Mair. Henrietta Cecilia Siddons Budgeon, who sold the painting at
    Sotheby's in 1947, was born in 1916.

    3. Unidentified paper label printed 'Sutherland S[.....] 71, George Street Eas[?]' and in ink 'Opposite / Fireplace / Drawingroom.'

    4. W. Freeman & Son Picture Restorers, 43/44 Albemarle St., London, no. 932(F) on stretcher bar lower left.

    This commanding three-quarter length portrait presents Sarah Kemble Siddons, England's undisputed queen of tragedy of her time, in the role of the captive Zara from William Congreve's The Mourning Bride. Dressed in a loose reddish gown, with star-spangled sleeves and a magnificent feathered turban, Mrs. Siddons is depicted by portraitist William Hamilton performing on the stage rather than posing for the painter, her hands outstretched in a beseeching gesture and eyes raised in despair. The portrait descended uninterrupted in the family of the celebrated actress for 163 years--from the time it was painted (circa 1784) until it was sold at public auction in London in 1947, where it was purchased by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

    Siddons' performance of Zara was regarded as one of her greatest roles in a career distinguished by exceptional performances, particularly those penned by Shakespeare. Among her finest roles were Isabella, Belvidera in Venice Preserv'd, Jane Shore in The Tragedy of Jane Shore, Katharine in Henry VIII, Constance in King John, Zara in The Mourning Bride, and Volumnia in Coriolanus; but it was as Lady Macbeth that she delivered a performance that made her a legend, particularly the sleepwalking scene. As with any genius, it is hard to dissect the qualities that made Mrs. Siddons so powerful and unforgettable, though contemporary critics continually marveled at the depths of passion, rage, despair, suffering, and quiet grief she was able to convey with a convincing naturalness. It is no wonder that she was painted by the finest portraitists of the time including Hamilton, Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

    As a portraitist, William Hamilton, a Neoclassically-trained painter noted for his important collection of Greek vases, made a speciality of painting likenesses of actors, and they are universally judged his finest efforts. Mrs. Siddons was a favorite subject of his, and he painted her in many guises and roles. One of his most famous portraits of the actress is his full-length Siddons as Euphrasis in "The Grecian Daughter" of 1780 (Stratford-upon-Avon Town Hall, England). In that work, as in the present one, Siddons is depicted performing on stage, declaiming with one hand raised high above her head. Hamilton's paintings, and mezzotints made after his paintings of Mrs. Siddons, became so popular that one writer noted, "Hamilton has turned tears to gold!"

    Mrs. Siddons performed the role of Zara from March 18, 1783 through November 17, 1784. Her character delivered one of the most famous lines of the play: ''Heav'n has no Rage like Love to Hatred turn'd, / Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd.''

    This lot is accompanied by books about Sarah Siddons (notably John Boaden's Memoirs of Mrs. Siddons, 1827, and Thomas Campbell's Life of Mrs. Siddons, 2 vols., 1834), and an original letter in her own hand. Images of each of these items are available in our online catalogue.

    Condition Report*: This oil painting on canvas is in good condition. It was re-lined (using glue adhesive) prior to its acquisition by Kenneth Kendall in 1971. In 1949 it was varnished with a natural soluble varnish by Borwin F. Anthony, according to the LACMA registrar's form.    EXAMINATION UNDER NATURAL LIGHT: slight surface grime and overall craquelure, commensurate with age; frame abrasion along left and right edges; specifically, along left edge, several paint chips, notably in the black background above sitter's skirt and, along lower right edge, area of paint chipping in background; one tiny paint chip to the left of sitter's head.   UNDER UV EXAMINATION: the face of the figure is completely untouched; minor newer in-painting (fluorescing dark purple) along left, right, and top edges; in the cracks of sitter's hair and turban; and in two dots in the upper column and in a D-shaped region in the background to the left of turban feather; older scattered in-painting (fluorescing lighter purple) in cracks of red dress, sitter's right forearm, and clouds of upper right quadrant.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2011
    17th Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 3,961

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

    Shipping, Taxes, Terms and Bidding
    This item cannot be shipped using standard methods. Please contact us for more information. Sales Tax information

    Important information concerning Sales Tax and Resale Certificates. Learn More

    Terms and Conditions  |  Bidding Guidelines and Bid Increments |  Glossary of Terms

    Sold on May 17, 2011 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Only 15 days left to consign to the 2021 October 19 Prints & Multiples Signature Auction !

    Learn about consigning with us

    Ms. Sullivan proved knowledgeable, diligent and efficient in selecting items viable for the American Indian & Pre-Columbian Art Auction
    Margie Royle,
    Lakewood, NJ
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search