Three Siblings

Mabel Terry-Lewis, the actress


This delightful miniature shows three golden-haired children – two girls, possibly twins, on either side of their little brother. Apart from the initial letter of each child’s name – H, D and A – their details are sadly lost to history though there is a strong chance that the children may have been the nieces and nephew of the artist.

Housed in a 14/15 ct gold frame, the portrait is signed Mabel Terry Lewis and dated 1896 when the artist was just 24 years old. The frame is backed with foiled blue glass with a lock of hair from each child surmounted with their respective initial in gold. The portraits may have faded as the colours are muted though it still resides in its original velvet-lined travel case with an easel display stand.

Mabel Gwynnedd Terry Lewis was born in 1872 into a theatrical family, part of the Terry-Gielgud dynasty. Her mother Kate was a leading lady on stage having made her debut as a child but retired from acting when she married. Kate’s younger sister was the acclaimed Shakespearean actress, Ellen Terry.

Mabel was the youngest of Kate’s five children. Her father, Arthur James Lewis, was a prosperous businessman as well as a talented artist and musician. Amateur dramatics were popular whilst the children were growing up and one of their performances was apparently¬† put on for the author Lewis Carroll and the librettist W. S. Gilbert whereupon Carroll proclaimed Mabel to be “the gem of the whole thing . . . a born actress”. So it was probably inevitable that Mabel would have a glittering career in acting. Like her mother though, she retired from the stage when she married Ralph Cecil Batley, a major in the Dorset Yeomanry, in 1904. Her happy marriage was cut short in 1917 by the death of her husband whereupon Mabel returned to acting in the West End. Amongst her many stage highlights was playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance of being Earnest in 1930 alongside her nephew Sir John Gielgud. She also appeared in eleven films including a couple of early silent movies.

But acting was not Mabel’s only talent; she also painted portrait miniatures as testified by this example of her work. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Miniature Society between 1896 and 1925.

Item Ref. 6742

Size: framed, 68 x 93mm