Sarah Siddons was the greatest tragic actress of her age. She was particularly famous for her interpretations of Shakespearian roles, in particular Lady Macbeth. Siddons retired from the stage in 1812; Lawrence painted her near the end of her career. She appears at one of her dramatic readings, with volumes of plays by Thomas Otway and Shakespeare beside her. Lawrence was the pre-eminent English portrait painter of the day. His works are marked by a fluent use of paint, and by a sense of scale and ambition which reflects his desire that portraiture be recognised as an elevated art form.