ROSINA WRIGHT (1827-1916)
Written and Researched by Jennifer Carnell
A carte de visite photograph of Rosina Wright, taken in 1860
by Clarkington, Sponsalia, 246 Regent Street, London.
Rosina Wright was a Victorian ballerina of the 1850s and 1860s, and in 1860 a theatrical newspaper stated,
'Others there may be, with a step as elastic, with limbs as flexible, and with an agility almost as great; but that splendid combination of classic grace and aplomb is to be found in few, indeed, but her.'
Wright was born in about 1827 in London. She was the daughter of Mary Ann Wright, and her mother worked as a 'Professor of dancing'.
Rosina began her training at the age of nine, with the ballet master Mr. Frampton who had a troupe of performing children. With these children she made her debut at the Royal Victoria Theatre, and this was her first paying engagement. A year later Mr. Framptom's dancers performed the ballet Flora and Zephyr at Gloucester House for the birthday of Princess Mary of Cambridge, and the excited girls performed the same evening at the theatre as usual. The next year , Frampton's dancers were engaged at the City of London Theatre, and despite her youth Rosina was chosen to dance opposite Frampton's Harlequin as Columbine.
After this (circa 1841), she was engaged by George Wild at the Olympic Theatre and she was given excellent reviews in the newspapers. Rosina later said that at this time she thought herself successful, never having visited larger theatres and never having seen famous dancers. Her views changed when she went to work for Alfred Bunn at Drury Lane and saw the ill fated Clara Webster (the famous ballerina who died in 1844 when her costume caught fire during a performance), and realised she still had much to learn.
Inspired, Rosina became a pupil of the man who had taught Clara, Mr. Bertrand, and then while at the Opera House she was taught by Signor Casati and practiced with Flora Fabbri, Lucille Grahn, Louise Taglioni, and Plunket. Further training took place in Paris at the Academy with Monsieur Mabille.
After her return from France, the change was evident and she was greeted with acclaim when she appeared as Mazourka in Le Diable à Quatre at the Olympic. Rosina was then engaged by Madame Vestris at the Lyceum where:
'Her bounding step, flexibility of limb, and classic grace, elicited from the audience the most uproarious applause; the cry of encore was loud and long after everything she did; and showers of bouquets fell nightly at her feet upon the stage. The press accorded to her the most unanimous praise.'
Rosina stayed at the Lyceum until 1854, and then she went to Drury Lane for three seasons. By now she was popularly dubbed the 'English Taglioni' (referring to the great Marie Taglioni). During the summer periods Rosina performed at many provincial theatres, including those at Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin - all to huge audiences and often for extended runs. In the late 1850s she returned to the Lyceum Theatre, and by 1860 she was engaged at the Strand Theatre under Louisa Swanborough's management, and her later theatre work included choreography.
In 1861, now at the height of her career, Rosina was living with her mother, her aunt Caroline Wright, and her cousin Isabella Wright at 10 Kensington Park Terrace North in Kensington.
In 1871 Rosina Wright had retired as a dancer, describing
her profession in the census as 'formerly dancer'. At this time she was living
with her mother at no. 5 Houghton Place, Somers Town, St. Pancras in London.
Possibly, like other retired dancers, she may have become a teacher. In 1881
she was living with her mother at 158 Tufnell Park Road, and described herself
as being of independant means. In 1891, her mother now dead, Rosina was living
as a boarder at 114 Huddleston Road, Islington. In 1901 Rosina was living
at a large boarding house in Islington at no. 58 Pemberton Gardens and she
was still there in 1911.
She died at the age of eighty-nine in Islington in 1916. (update: A naughty Mr. Alan G. took this text and put in on the National Portrait Gallery website as his own - now removed)
An engraving of Rosina Wright from the Players.