Painting, Miss Hallam as Imogen

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  • Artist: Charles Willson Peale
  • Annapolis, Maryland
  • 1771
  • Oil on Canvas
  • 1956-296

Soon after ending his studies with Benjamin West in London and returning to Annapolis, Maryland, Charles Willson Peale executed this work, the earliest known representation of an American stage production. Inspired by a performance of Shakespeare's Cymbeline, Peale depicted the famous actress Nancy Hallam (active 1758-1775) as the virtuous heroine Imogen. Here, representing a moment from Act III, Scene VI, Imogen has disguised herself as a boy (Fidele) to defy relatives attempting to thwart her marriage. Her exotic costume--a combination of contemporary clothing, seventeenth-century fancy dress, and Turkish touches--would have been appropriate for a woman playing a male role in the 1770s.

Hallam acted in a wide variety of stage productions, from Shakespearean works to The Beggars' Opera. As a member of the American Company, she toured the East Coast, including Williamsburg, where relatives of hers had settled earlier. In 1774, she accompanied her troupe to Jamaica, where she married John Raynard a year later.

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