‘Lovely in her countenance, delicate in her form’: The portraits of Hester Santlow (c.1693-1773)

The dancer-actress Hester Santlow (c.1693-1773), a leading player on the London stage for more than 25 years, was widely acknowledged by contemporaries to be a beautiful woman. She was unusual among the dancers of the period for the length and continuing success of her career. Mrs Santlow was admired for the breadth of her dance repertoire, which encompassed comic as well as serious dancing and extended to John Weaver’s ‘Scenical Dancing’ when she took leading roles in each of his three dramatic entertainments of dancing. She is one of the very few dancers of the early 18th century for whom choreographies survive in notation. Hester Santlow is even more unusual for the number of her surviving portraits. There are four: a half-length possibly painted early in her career (sometimes described as showing her in the title role of The Fair Quaker of Deal); the well-known full-length as a female Harlequin; a little-known half-length showing her in profile; and a three-quarter length painted shortly after her retirement from the stage, following the death of her husband the actor-manager Barton Booth. There is also a copy of the Harlequin portrait, which has some significant differences from the original, as well as another portrait said to be of her (although the attribution is not proved). This paper will consider all of these portraits in the context of Mrs Santlow’s life and career. It will explore her possible patronage of particular artists and her links with artistic circles. In particular, it will look at the Harlequin portrait and its copy alongside surviving dance notations to see what these sources together might tell us about the portrayal of female dancers, dancing and dance costumes on the early 18th-century London stage.

Moira Goff researches, reconstructs, performs and teaches the surviving court and theatre dances of the 18th century. She has given many performances and has published widely on this and related topics. Her book The Incomparable Hester Santlow, a study of the life and career of the 18th-century English dancer-actress, was published in 2007. She has recently completed a short study of the career of George Desnoyer, a leading dancer on the London stage and dancing master to Frederick Prince of Wales. She is currently working on a recreation of the first ballet, John Weaver's The Loves of Mars and Venus of 1717. Moira is also a curator of rare books at the British Library in London. She is lead curator for a major exhibition on Georgian Britain and its legacy, which opened at the Library in November 2013.



Moira Goff
Symposium Title: 
The dancer in celebrity in the long 18th-century 2014
Author affiliation: 
Independent scholar