Catalogue entry

Henry Fuseli 1741–1825

T00733 Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers ?exhibited 1812

Not inscribed.
Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 (101.5 x 127).
Purchased at Sotheby’s with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery and from the National Art-Collections Fund (Grant-in-Aid) 1965.
Coll: Thomas E. Lowinsky; his widow; their daughter, Mrs. J. Stanley-Clarke; sold Sotheby, 10 March 1965 (107).
Exh: (?) R.A., 1812 (39); R. E. A. Wilson, 24 Ryder Street, March–April 1935 (2, repr. as ‘Mrs. Siddons in the character of Lady Macbeth’); Roland, Browse and Delbanco, May–June 1948 (2, same title); Arts Council, London, and tour, 1950 (25, as ‘Lady Macbeth’); The Romantic Movement, Tate Gallery, July–September 1959 (162); Shakespeare in the Theatre, Guildhall Gallery, May-June 1964 (14, ‘Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth’). Lit: Frederick Antal, Fuseli Studies, 1956, pp. 143–4, n. 6; Marcel Brion, Romantic Art, 1960, p. 210, pi. 60; Michael Levey, A Concise History of Painting, from Giotto to Cézanne, 1962, p. 259, pl. 457.

The picture exhibited at the R.A. in 1812 was entitled ‘Lady Macbeth seizing the daggers: A sketch for a large picture “—Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers!” Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2’. She is not actually seizing the daggers and there is no record of Fuseli having painted a later version, though he is said to have been working on another composition of Lady Macbeth at the time of his death (see Sotheby Sale, 10 March 1965, lot 157). The identification of the present sketch with the exhibited one cannot be regarded as certain, but is highly probable. It has not been possible to trace the history of No. T00733 before it appeared in the collection of Thomas Lowinsky. His daughter had no recollection of when and where he acquired it, but thought it may have been at the R. E. A. Wilson exhibition in 1935 as he had the catalogue.

The composition must have been inspired by the acting of Mrs. Siddons, but was not intended as a portrait. She first played the part of Lady Macbeth in London on 2 February 1785 at Drury Lane, chose it for her farewell to the stage on 29 June 1812, but continued to play it for private and benefit performances up to 5 June 1817, and it was considered one of her most celebrated parts. The picture and other versions of the subject are discussed in detail in the Report, pp. 12–15.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1964–1965, London 1966.