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Smallhythe Place, Kent

Posted on May 14, 2016

Today, I visited Smallhythe Place,  a National Trust property just outside of Tenterden in Kent.  The former home of 19th century actress Ellen Terry, the house is laden with items belonging to Terry from her life on and off the stage.

I was originally drawn to the visiting Smallhythe Place as its 'piece de resistance' is the recently restored beetle wing dress, worn by Ellen Terry when she played Lady Macbeth and captured in the famous painting by John Singer Sargent. The painting is in the Tate's collection but is currently being featured in Compton Verney's 'Shakespeare in Art' exhibition.

I have long been obsessed with beetle wings, whilst studying art foundation I discovered the book 'The Shining Cloth' by Victoria Z. Rivers which first introduced me to these green jewel like embellishments.  A lucky find of a Victorian dress dripping with beetle wings, discarded in a house clearance, led me to write my dissertation about the use of insects and birds in fashion. Since then beetle wings often featured in my own jewellery.

The dress was wonderful to see, however I was most struck by this image...

A poster for Hamlet by J & W Beggarstaff, 1894

I had never come across the Beggarstaffs before, two artists and brother-in-laws, William Nicholson and James Pryde who teamed up to produce graphic posters from 1894-1899. Stripped back, a more sombre style than that of Lautrec, these posters hold  their own over hundred years on and show that good graphic design is often the most simple.

Written by Rheanna Lingham 

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