A Victorian dress made from 1,000 beetle wings that was worn by one of the most famous actresses of the era has been restored at a cost of £50,000.
The emerald and sea green gown - worn by Ellen Terry when she played Lady Macbeth at London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1888 - is on display in Smallhythe Place, Kent.
When Ellen starred alongside Henry Irving in Macbeth in 1888, there was not a wide choice of fabrics available in England, and Alice could not find the colours she wanted to achieve her effects. She wanted one dress to ‘look as much like soft chain armour as I could, and yet have something that would give the appearance of the scales of a serpent. ’(Mrs. J. Comyns Carr’s ‘Reminiscences’. London: Hutchinson, 1926). Mrs Nettleship found a twist of soft green silk and blue tinsel in Bohemia and this was crocheted to achieve the chain mail effect.
The dress hung beautifully but:
‘we did not think that it was brilliant enough, so it was sewn all over with real green beetle wings, and a narrow border in Celtic designs, worked out in rubies and diamonds, hemmed all the edges. To this was added a cloak of shot velvet in heather tones, upon which great griffins were embroidered in flame-coloured tinsel. The wimple, or veil, was held in place by a circlet of rubines, and two long plaits twisted with gold hung to her knees.
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent (1889), Tate Britain
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth wearing the dress in 1888
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, by John Singer Sargent, Smallhythe Place
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