In 1888 actress Ellen Terry performed the role of Lady Macbeth at London’s Lyceum Theatre while wearing an awesome green gown bedecked with the 1,000 sloughed-off wings of the jewel beetle. It quickly became one of the most celebrated costumes of the Victorian era, immortalized in a portrait painted by John Singer Sargent.
126 years is a long time and over the years Dame Terry’s dress experienced all sorts of wear and tear and numerous alterations. But after 1,300 hours of painstaking work over and £50,000 ($81,000) in expenses, this magnificent costume has been restored to its original glory.
Work began on the gown two years ago after a successful fundraising campaign, but restoring the beetle wings wasn’t the most difficult task. “We had collected the beetle wings that had fallen off over the years,” says Paul Meredith, house manager at Smallhythe Place, where the dress now resides, “so that the conservator was able to reattach many of the originals, plus others that had been donated to us—1,000 in total.” The restoration team patched the 100 or so broken wings using small pieces of Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste.
Photos by Zenzie Tinker