"There are at least three versions of this, Reynolds’ most famous painting. The prime version is at the Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino. This version is also signed - although this should be interpreted more as the master's seal of approval for a fine product of his studio than as a proof of authorship.
Mrs Siddons was the most celebrated tragedienne of her day. Her identification with the Tragic Muse, Melpomene, was a commonplace of the time; here Reynolds translates this idea into a solemn Michelangelesque icon, complete with allegorical figures of Pity and Terror. This imagery could elevate a portrait to the level of a ‘history painting’ - the most respected art genre at the time. "