Death Mask of Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928)
Margaret Winser (1868 - 1944)
A jewel of the stage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, actress Ellen Terry (1847–1928) made her name performing the soliloquies of Shakespeare, taking on the roles of Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and Juliet. Terry bought Smallhythe Place in 1899, and it was here, in 1928, that she died. Journalists from around the UK gathered to report the news, and tributes flooded in from fans across the world. Death masks may seem macabre, but they were a common way of preserving the likenesses of loved ones after death, a means to ensure they are remembered as in life. For Ellen Terry, this important task was entrusted to Margaret Winser (1868–1944), a local sculptor who had previously exhibited at the Royal Academy. Having spent her life assuming the identity of others on the stage, Terry’s final mask reveals only her – peaceful, fragile and as striking in death as she was in life. Her son Edward claimed that, in her final moments, she appeared to be: ‘…a young beautiful woman [lying] on the bed, like Juliet on her bier’.
Plaster, death mask of Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928) taken by Margaret Winser (1868-1944), assisted by Harvey Ronald Allen (known as Kim Allen), 1928.
The day after Ellen Terry's death at the age of 81, local sculptor Margaret Winser visited Smallhythe and made a mould of Terry's face. She was assisted by Harvey Ronald Allen (known as Kim Allen), a professional model-maker for museums. Three casts were produced from the mould. This one remained at Smallhythe (along with the plaster cast moulds - see NT 1118529). The second mask was given to the Memorial Theatre in Stratford upon Avon (RSC Collection, STRPG:M:2010.1) and in 1949 the third mask was donated to the National Portrait Gallery in London by artist and friend of the family Clare Atwood (NPG 3657).
Makers and roles
Margaret Winser (1868 - 1944), sculptor Mr Burchett (fl.1928), sculptor