In a scene that could be taken from the Off-Broadway play she is performing in, actress Jennifer Woodward, star of The Countess, will sit for a portrait-in-character next week. The Woodward portrait, commissioned by the show's producer, will briefly revive the tradition of immortalizing actresses on canvas that disappeared when photography eclipsed fine portraiture.
What makes the Woodward portrait distinctive is the connection with The Countess. The story on stage is based on real events that took place 146 years ago when London society learned that England's art critic and trend setter, John Ruskin, was being sued for divorce by his wife, Effie, on the grounds that their union had never been consummated. Ruskin's wife (played by Woodward) was instantly vilified, and it was later revealed that there was another man, John Everett Millais, a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
The Woodward portrait will be done by Ramiro, the 26-year-old Venezuelan artist, who works in Florence as senior painting instructor at the Florence Academy of Art.
On January 19, in a reception following the evening performance of The Countess, J. David Farmer, director of the Dahesh Museum, which specializes in 19th century European art, will join the artist and members of the audience to unveil the portrait. Mr. Farmer will comment on the painting and will identify the stylistic characteristics which link it to the traditions of the Pre-Raphaelites.
"There is an illustrious lineage of actors painted in character," said production spokesperson Beck Lee, "like Mrs. Siddons, Fanny Kemble, Lilly Langtree, Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt." Lee said Woodward's portrait will be done in the style of character's future husband, the celebrated Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. Countess producer Ludovica Villar-Hauser has commissioned Ramiro's painting, which will subsequently become the production's signature marketing image.
According to a prepared statement, the real-life great-great granddaughter of Sir John Everett Millais, Tara Millais, will be on hand to introduce the portrait's purchaser. Lee said that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, considered one of the world's largest private collectors of Pre-Raphaelite art, was being courted as a possible buyer.
As reported earlier, The Countess, written by Gregory Murphy and directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser, will log its 300th performance at the Samuel Beckett Theatre Feb. 9, making the Victorian era scandal play the longest running new drama of the season, both on or Off-Broadway.
The Samuel Beckett Theatre is located at 410 West 42nd Street. Call Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100 for credit cards, or the box office at (212) 594-2826.
-- By Murdoch McBride