The National Portrait Gallery Acquires Bust of British Actress Margaret Rawlings

A large plaster bust of the celebrated twentieth century British actress Margaret Rawlings by sculptor Frank Dobson has been donated to the National Portrait Gallery Collection, it was announced today (Wednesday 11 December 2013).

The bust of Rawlings, who had a remarkable acting career for over forty years, was modelled from life by Dobson in 1936 and measures twenty-three inches in height. In the portrait, Rawlings has her arms crossed and head turned to face one side in an informal and relaxed manner. In the year that the portrait was created, Rawlings had achieved notable success playing Katie O'Shea in ElsieSchauffler's Parnell, firstly at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York, and then at the New Theatre in London's West End. The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the same year.

During her long career, Rawlings (1906 - 1996) achieved considerable acclaim for many successful roles both in Britain and abroad. She made her stage debut on 21 March 1927 in George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma at the Grand Theatre, Croydon. During the 1930s, her reputation as a leading tragedy actress gained ground as she starred as Bianca Capello in Clifford Bax's play The Venetian and Oscar Wilde's Salome, and she continued to receive praise from critics for her vivid and emotional performances. Rawlings was particularly successful playing the spectacular dual role of Mary Charrington and her husband's murdered Mistress, Lucy, in Gordon Sherry's thriller Black Limelight, which had a long run at the St. James Theatre in 1937. The following year, she played a lead role as Karen Selby in The Flashing Stream, a part written for her by the play's author Charles Morgan, novelist and chief drama critic for The Times. Rawlings gained further recognition following her roles as Eliza Doolittle in Shaw's Pygmalian; A House in the Square by Diana Morgan, in which she starred with Lillian Braithwaite; and Vittoria Corombona in John Webster's tale of corruption and deceit The White Devil.

During the 1950s and 1960s, some of Rawlings' main successes included Zabrina in Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine with Donald Wolfit (1951), Lysistrata in Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart (1953), the title role in Jean Racine's Phedra (1957), Ella Rentheim in Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Bjorkman (1963) and Jocasta in Sophocles' Oepidus the King (1964). Although Rawlings retired in the early 1970s, she returned to the stage in 1979 in a one woman show playing the Empress Eugenie in Jason Lindsey's play Eugenie.

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by Barry Kostrinsky