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Boydell Shakespeare Gallery

Oil painting representing Puck as a baby with pointed ears and curly blonde hair sitting on an enormous mushroom in a forest. He holds a small posy and grins mischievously.
Joshua Reynolds' Puck (1789), painted for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, is modelled after Parmigianino's Madonna with St. Zachary, the Magdalen, and St. John[1]

The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in London, England, was the first stage of a three-part project initiated in November 1786 by engraver and publisher John Boydell in an effort to foster a school of British history painting. In addition to the establishment of the gallery, Boydell planned to produce an illustrated edition of William Shakespeare's plays and a folio of prints based upon a series of paintings by different contemporary painters. During the 1790s the London gallery that showed the original paintings emerged as the project's most popular element.

The works of William Shakespeare enjoyed a renewed popularity in 18th-century Britain. Several new editions of his works were published, his plays were revived in the theatre and numerous works of art were created illustrating the plays and specific productions of them. Capitalising on this interest, Boydell decided to publish a grand illustrated edition of Shakespeare's plays that would showcase the talents of British painters and engravers. He chose the noted scholar and Shakespeare editor George Steevens to oversee the edition, which was released between 1791 and 1803.

The press reported weekly on the building of Boydell's gallery, designed by Pall Mall. Boydell commissioned works from famous painters of the day, such as Joshua Reynolds, and the folio of engravings proved the enterprise's most lasting legacy. However, the long delay in publishing the prints and the illustrated edition prompted criticism. Because they were hurried, and many illustrations had to be done by lesser artists, the final products of Boydell's venture were judged to be disappointing. The project caused the Boydell firm to become insolvent, and they were forced to sell the gallery at a lottery.


  • Shakespeare in the 18th century 1
    • Shakespeare editions 1.1
  • Boydell's Shakespeare venture 2
  • Illustrated Shakespeare edition and folio 3
  • Gallery building 4
  • Reaction 5
  • Collapse 6
  • Legacy 7
  • List of art works 8
    • Sculptures 8.1
    • Folio 8.2
    • Illustrated edition 8.3
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12

Shakespeare in the 18th century

In the 18th century, Shakespeare became associated with rising British nationalism, and Boydell tapped into the same mood that many other entrepreneurs were exploiting.[2] Shakespeare appealed not only to a social elite who prided themselves on their artistic taste, but also to the emerging middle class who saw in Shakespeare's works a vision of a diversified society.[3] The mid-century Shakespearean theatrical revival was probably most responsible for reintroducing the British public to Shakespeare. Shakespeare's plays were integral to the theatre's resurgence at this time. Despite the upsurge in theatre-going, writing tragedies was not profitable, and thus few good tragedies were written.[4] Shakespeare's works filled the gap in the repertoire, and his reputation grew as a result. By the end of the 18th century, one out of every six plays performed in London was by Shakespeare.[5]

The actor, director, and producer David Garrick was a key figure in Shakespeare's theatrical renaissance.[6] His reportedly superb acting, unrivalled productions, numerous and important Shakespearean portraits, and his spectacular 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee helped promote Shakespeare as a marketable product and the national playwright. Garrick's Drury Lane theatre was the centre of the Shakespeare mania which swept the nation.[7]

The visual arts also played a significant role in expanding Shakespeare's popular appeal. In particular, the conversation pieces designed chiefly for homes generated a wide audience for literary art, especially Shakespearean art.[8] This tradition began with William Hogarth (whose prints reached all levels of society) and attained its peak in the Royal Academy exhibitions, which displayed paintings, drawings, and sculptures. The exhibitions became important public events: thousands flocked to see them, and newspapers reported in detail on the works displayed. They became a fashionable place to be seen (as did Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, later in the century). In the process, the public was refamiliarized with Shakespeare's works.[9]

Shakespeare editions

George Steevens, one of the greatest Shakespeare scholars of the 18th century and the editor of the Boydell Shakespeare edition

The rise in Shakespeare's popularity coincided with Britain's accelerating change from an oral to a print culture. Towards the end of the century, the basis of Shakespeare's high reputation changed. He had originally been respected as a playwright, but once the theatre became associated with the masses, Shakespeare's status as a "great writer" shifted. Two strands of Shakespearean print culture emerged: bourgeois popular editions and scholarly critical editions.[10]

In order to turn a profit, booksellers chose well-known authors, such as Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, to edit Shakespeare editions. According to Shakespeare scholar Gary Taylor, Shakespearean criticism became so "associated with the dramatis personae of 18th-century English literature ... [that] he could not be extracted without uprooting a century and a half of the national canon".[11] The 18th century's first Shakespeare edition, which was also the first illustrated edition of the plays, was published in 1709 by Jacob Tonson and edited by Nicholas Rowe.[12] The plays appeared in "pleasant and readable books in small format" which "were supposed ... to have been taken for common or garden use, domestic rather than library sets".[13] Shakespeare became "domesticated" in the 18th century, particularly with the publication of family editions such as Bell's in 1773 and 1785–86, which advertised themselves as "more instructive and intelligible; especially to the young ladies and to youth; glaring indecencies being removed".[14]

Scholarly editions also proliferated. At first, these were edited by author-scholars such as Pope (1725) and Johnson (1765), but later in the century this changed. Editors such as

  • Shakespeare illustration exhibition at the Special Collections of Lupton Library
  • Shakespeare Illustrated by Harry Rusche at Emory University
  • Engravings from the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery at Georgetown University Art Collection

External links

  • Four steps in the history of museum technologies and visitors' digital participation

Further reading

  • —. Collection of Prints, From Pictures Painted for the Purpose of Illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakspeare, by the Artists of Great-Britain. London: John and Josiah Boydell, 1805.
  • —. The Shakespeare Gallery: A Reproduction Commemorative of the Tercentenary Anniversary, MDCCCLXIV. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1867.
  • Altick, Richard D. Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760–1900. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8142-0380-9.
  • Boase, T.S.R. "Illustrations of Shakespeare's Plays in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 10 (1947): 83–108.
  • Bruntjen, Sven Hermann Arnold. John Boydell (1719–1804): A Study of Art Patronage and Publishing in Georgian London. New York: Garland Publishing, 1985. ISBN 0-8240-6880-7.
  • Burwick, Frederick. "Introduction: The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery". The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. Eds. Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick. Bottrop, Essen: Verlag Peter Pomp, 1996. ISBN 3-89355-134-4. Retrieved on 11 January 2008.
  • Burwick, Frederick. "The Romantic Reception of the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery: Lamb, Coleridge, Hazlitt". The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. Eds. Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick. Bottrop, Essen: Verlag Peter Pomp, 1996. ISBN 3-89355-134-4.
  • Dobson, Michael. The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation, and Authorship, 1660–1769. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-811233-5.
  • Egerton, Judy. National Gallery Catalogues (new series): The British School, 1998, ISBN 1-85709-170-1
  • Franklin, Colin. Shakespeare Domesticated: The Eighteenth-century Editions. Hants, England: Scolar Press, 1991. ISBN 0-85967-834-2.
  • Friedman, Winifred H. Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery. New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1976. ISBN 0-8240-1987-3.
  • Gage, John. "Boydell's Shakespeare and the Redemption of British Engraving". The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. Eds. Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick. Bottrop, Essen: Verlag Peter Pomp, 1996. ISBN 3-89355-134-4.
  • Hammerschmidt-Hummel, Hildegard. "Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery and Its Role in Promoting English History Painting". The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. Eds. Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick. Bottrop, Essen: Verlag Peter Pomp, 1996. ISBN 3-89355-134-4.
  • Hartmann, Sadakichi. Shakespeare in Art. Art Lovers' Series. Boston: L. C. Page & Co., 1901.
  • Lennox-Boyd, Christopher. "The Prints Themselves: Production, Marketing, and their Survival". The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. Eds. Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick. Bottrop, Essen: Verlag Peter Pomp, 1996. ISBN 3-89355-134-4.
  • McCalman, Iain. An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British Culture, 1776–1832. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-924543-6.
  • Merchant, W. Moelwyn. Shakespeare and the Artist. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
  • Salaman, Malcolm C. Shakespeare in Pictorial Art. Ed. Charles Holme. 1916. New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1971.
  • Santaniello, A. E. "Introduction". The Boydell Shakespeare Prints. New York: Benjamin Bloom, 1968.
  • George W. Nicol, 1802.
  • Sheppard, F.H.W. Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1. London: Athlone Press for London County Council, 1960. Retrieved on 2 February 2008.
  • Sherbo, Arthur. The Achievement of George Steevens. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.
  • Taylor, Gary. Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History, from the Restoration to the Present. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989. ISBN 1-55584-078-7.
  • Wenner, Evelyn Wingate. George Steevens and the Boydell Shakespeare. Diss. George Washington University, 1951.
  • West, Shearer. "John Boydell". Grove Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. London; New York: Grove/Macmillan, 1996. ISBN 1-884446-00-0. Retrieved on 26 November 2007.


  1. ^ Burwick, "Romantic Reception", 149.
  2. ^ Altick, 10; Boase, 92.
  3. ^ Altick, 11–17; Taylor, 149.
  4. ^ Taylor, 58.
  5. ^ Friedman, 19.
  6. ^ Taylor, 116ff.
  7. ^ Boase, 92; Bruntjen, 72.
  8. ^ Altick, 34.
  9. ^ Altick, 16–17; Merchant, 43–44; Taylor, 125.
  10. ^ Dobson, 100–30; Merchant, 43; Taylor, 62.
  11. ^ Taylor, 71.
  12. ^ Taylor, 74.
  13. ^ Franklin, 11–12.
  14. ^ Qtd. in Dobson, 209.
  15. ^ See Sherbo's study of Steevens and Taylor, 70ff.
  16. ^ a b "Prospectus", Collection of Prints.
  17. ^ Bruntjen, 71–72; Santaniello, 5.
  18. ^ West, "John Boydell".
  19. ^ "Preface", Collection of Prints by George Romney written by his son. For an analysis of the relative reliability of these sources, see Friedman.
  20. ^ Santaniello, 7.
  21. ^ "Preface", Collection of Prints; see Friedman, 4–5; Merchant, 69.
  22. ^ Qtd. in Friedman, 4–5.
  23. ^ Burwick, "Introduction", 18–19.
  24. ^ Friedman, 25.
  25. ^ Friedman 65.
  26. ^ Friedman, 2.
  27. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2014), "What Were the British Earnings and Prices Then? (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  28. ^ Hartmann, 58.
  29. ^ a b c d Friedman, 84.
  30. ^ Qtd. in Friedman, 85–86.
  31. ^ Qtd. in Friedman 68–69.
  32. ^ "Advertisement", Dramatic Works of Shakespeare.
  33. ^ "Preface", Collection of Prints; see also Bruntjen, 102–03 and Merchant, 69.
  34. ^ Bruntjen, 102–03.
  35. ^ Merchant, 70–75.
  36. ^ a b Wenner, 46.
  37. ^ Wenner, 134.
  38. ^ Wenner, 146.
  39. ^ Gage, 27.
  40. ^ a b Lennox-Boyd, 45.
  41. ^ Lennox-Boyd, 45; Gage, 29.
  42. ^ See, for example, Gage, 29 and Burwick, "Introduction", 20.
  43. ^ Burwick, "Introduction", 19–20.
  44. ^ Qtd. on Shakespeare Illustrated. Harry Rusche. Emory University. Retrieved on 20 November 2007.
  45. ^ Letter to Mrs. Carey, 3 October 1821, qtd. in Hartmann, 61.
  46. ^ Burwick, "Introduction", 19.
  47. ^ Bruntjen, 75.
  48. ^ For present-day equivalent amounts, most payments should be increased by about two orders of magnitude. Giving precise present-day figures is difficult given the problem of measuring economic worth over time.
  49. ^ a b Boase, 96.
  50. ^ Lennox-Boyd, 49.
  51. ^ a b c d e f g Sheppard, 325–38.
  52. ^ Sheppard, 323.
  53. ^ Burwick, "Introduction: The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery". Retrieved on 11 January 2008.
  54. ^ Lecture to the Royal Academy, 29 January 1810. Qtd. in Gillian Darley, John Soane: An Accidental Romantic. New Haven: Yale University Press (1999), 194–95. ISBN 0-300-08695-4.
  55. ^ William Shakespeare, Hamlet. Act I, scene ii. Wikisource. Retrieved on 15 January 2008.
  56. ^ Hartmann, 216.
  57. ^ Friedman, 4, 83; Santaniello, 5.
  58. ^ Santaniello, 5.
  59. ^ Burwick, "Romantic Reception", 150.
  60. ^ Qtd. in Burwick, "Romantic Reception", 150.
  61. ^ Friedman, 70; Santaniello, 5–6.
  62. ^ Friedman, 73; Bruntjen, 92.
  63. ^ Santaniello, 6.
  64. ^ a b Qtd. in Friedman, 74.
  65. ^ Qtd. in Friedman, 73–74.
  66. ^ Burwick, "Romantic Reception", 144.
  67. ^ Merchant, 76; Santaniello, 6.
  68. ^ Qtd. in Merchant, 67.
  69. ^ Merchant, 75; Friedman, 160.
  70. ^ Qtd. in Friedman, 85.
  71. ^ Bruntjen, 113–14; Lennox-Boyd, 45.
  72. ^ Merchant, 65–67; Boase, 96.
  73. ^ Merchant, 66–67; Lennox-Boyd, 45, 49.
  74. ^ Lennox-Boyd, 46.
  75. ^ Friedman, 68.
  76. ^ Bruntjen, 113.
  77. ^ Friedman, 87–88.
  78. ^ The London Gazette: no. 15685. p. 341. 23 March 1804.
  79. ^ The London Gazette: no. 15752. p. 1368. 6 November 1804.
  80. ^ Friedman, 4, 87–90; Merchant, 70–75.
  81. ^ McCalman, 194.
  82. ^ a b Bruntjen, 118–21.
  83. ^ Graham-Vernon, Deborah. "Robert Bowyer" (subscription required). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2004. Retrieved on 31 January 2008.
  84. ^ Egerton, 391 and Index
  85. ^ Burwick, "Romantic Reception", 144–45.
  86. ^ Shakespeare Gallery, xx.
  87. ^ Bruntjen, 160.
  88. ^ "'"Scene in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor. BBC Your Paintings. Retrieved 3 July 2014.  Durno's painting is now in Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.


Volume VII
King Henry VIII


Julius Cæsar

  • Act III, scene 1 by Richard Westall
  • Act V, scene 5 by Richard Westall

Antony and Cleopatra

Volume VIII
Timon of Athens

Titus Andronicus

Troilus and Cressida


Volume IX
King Lear

  • Act I, scene 1 by Robert Smirke
  • Act III, scene 4 by Robert Smirke
  • Act IV, scene 7 by Robert Smirke

Romeo and Juliet



Volume IV

  • Olivia, Viola and Maria (Act I, scene 5) by William Hamilton
  • Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria (Act II, scene 3) by William Hamilton
  • Act IV, scene 3 by William Hamilton

The Winter's Tale

  • Leontes and Hermione (Act II, scene 1) by William Hamilton
  • Paulina, Child, Leontes, and Antigonus (Act II, scene 3) by William Hamilton
  • The Shepherd's Cot (Act IV, scene 3) by William Hamilton


  • Act I, scene 3 by Richard Westall
  • Act III, scene 4 by Richard Westall
  • Act V, scene 1 by Richard Westall

King John

  • Act IV, scene 3 by Robert Ker Porter
  • Act III, scene 4 by Richard Westall

Volume V
King Richard II

  • Act III, scene 2 by William Hamilton
  • Act V, scene 2 by William Hamilton

First Part of King Henry IV

  • Act II, scene 1 by Robert Smirke
  • Act II, scene 3 by Robert Smirke
  • Act V, scene 4 by Robert Smirke

Second Part of King Henry IV

  • Act IV, scene 4 by Robert Smirke
  • Act V, scene 5 by Robert Smirke

King Henry V

  • Act III, scene 3 by Richard Westall

Volume VI
First Part of King Henry VI

  • Act II, scene 4 by Josiah Boydell
  • Act II, scene 5 by William Hamilton
  • Death of Mortimer (Act II, scene 5) by James Northcote
  • Joan of Arc and the Furies (Act V, scene 4) by William Hamilton

Second Part of King Henry VI

  • Act II, scene 2 by William Hamilton
  • Act III, scene 2 by William Hamilton
  • Death of Cardinal Beaufort (Act III, scene 3) by Joshua Reynolds

Third Part of King Henry VI

  • Act III, scene 2 by William Hamilton
  • Act V, scene 5 by William Hamilton

Richard III

Volume I
The Tempest

  • Act I, scene 2 by William Hamilton
  • Ferdinand and Miranda (Act III, scene 1) by William Hamilton
  • Act II, scene 2 by Robert Smirke

Two Gentlemen of Verona

  • Act V, scene 3 by Thomas Stothard

Merry Wives of Windsor

  • Mrs. Page with a Letter (Act II, scene 1) by Matthew Peters
  • Act I, scene 1 by Robert Smirke
  • Act I, scene 4 by Robert Smirke
  • Act IV, scene 1 by Robert Smirke
  • Act V, scene 5 by Robert Smirke

Measure for Measure

  • Act II, scene 4 by Robert Smirke
  • Act IV, scene 3 by Robert Smirke

Volume II
The Comedy of Errors

  • Act I, scene 1 by Francis Wheatley
  • Act IV, scene 4 by Francis Wheatley

Much Ado About Nothing

  • Hero, Ursula, and Beatrice (Act III, scene 1) by Matthew Peters
  • Borachio, Conrade and Watchmen (Act III, scene 3) by Francis Wheatley
  • Act IV, scene 1 by William Hamilton
  • Examination (Act IV, scene 2) by Robert Smirke
  • Act V, scene 4 by Francis Wheatley

Love's Labour's Lost

  • Act IV, scene 2 by Francis Wheatley
  • Act V, scene 2 by Francis Wheatley

A Midsummer Night's Dream

  • Puck (Act II, scene 1) by Henry Fuseli
  • Puck (Act II, scene 2) by Joshua Reynolds

Volume III
Merchant of Venice

  • Act III, scene 2 by Richard Westall
  • Act III, scene 3 by Richard Westall

As You Like It

  • Jacques and the Wounded Stag (Act II, scene 1) by William Hodges
  • Act II, scene 6 by Robert Smirke
  • Act IV, scene 3 by Robert Smirke
  • Act V, scene 4 by William Hamilton

The Taming of the Shrew

All's Well That Ends Well

  • Act I, scene 3 by Francis Wheatley
  • Act II, scene 3 by Francis Wheatley

Illustrated edition

Volume II

  • Portrait of Queen Charlotte by William Beechey
  • King John, Act IV, scene 1 by James Northcote
  • King Richard II, Act IV, scene 1 by Mather Browne
  • King Richard II, Act V, scene 2 by James Northcote
  • Henry IV, part 1, Act II, scene 2 by Robert Smirke and Joseph Farington
  • Henry IV, part 1, Act II, scene 4 by Robert Smirke
  • Henry IV, part 1, Act III, scene 1 by Richard Westall
  • Henry IV, part 1, Act V, scene 4 by John Francis Rigaud
  • Henry IV, part 2, Act II, scene 4 by Henry Fuseli
  • Henry IV, part 2, Act III, scene 2 by James Durno
  • Henry IV, part 2, Act IV, scene 4 by Josiah Boydell - Prince Henry Taking the Crown
  • Henry IV, part 2, Act IV, scene 4 by Josiah Boydell - Prince Henry's Apology
  • Henry V, Act II, scene 2 by Henry Fuseli
  • Henry VI, part 1, Act II, scene 3 by John Opie
  • Henry VI, part 1, Act II, scene 4 by Josiah Boydell
  • Henry VI, part 1, Act II, scene 5 by James Northcote
  • Henry VI, part 2, Act I, scene 4 by John Opie
  • Henry VI, part 2, Act III, scene 3 by Joshua Reynolds
  • Henry VI, part 3, Act I, scene 3 by James Northcote
  • Henry VI, part 3, Act II, scene 5 by Josiah Boydell
  • Henry VI, part 3, Act IV, scene 5 by William Miller
  • Henry VI, part 3, Act V, scene 7 by James Northcote
  • Richard III, Act III, scene 1 by James Northcote
  • Richard III, Act IV, scene 3 by James Northcote - The Young Princes Murdered in the Tower
  • Richard III, Act IV, scene 3 by James Northcote - Burying of the Royal Children
  • Henry VIII, Act I, scene 4 by Thomas Stothard
  • Henry VIII, Act III, scene 1 by Matthew Peters
  • Henry VIII, Act IV, scene 2 by Richard Westall
  • Henry VIII, Act V, scene 4 by Matthew Peters
  • Coriolanus, Act V, scene 3 by Gavin Hamilton
  • Julius Cæsar, Act IV, scene 3 by Richard Westall
  • Antony and Cleopatra, Act III, scene 9 by Henry Tresham
  • Timon of Athens, Act IV, scene 3 by John Opie
  • Titus Andronicus, Act IV, scene 1 by Thomas Kirk
  • Troilus and Cressida, Act II, scene 2 by George Romney
  • Troilus and Cressida, Act V, scene 2 by Angelica Kauffman
  • Cymbeline, Act I, scene 2 by William Hamilton
  • Cymbeline, Act III, scene 4 by John Hoppner
  • Cymbeline, Act III, scene 6 by Richard Westall
  • King Lear, Act I, scene 1 by Henry Fuseli
  • King Lear in the Storm from King Lear, Act III, scene 4 by Benjamin West
  • King Lear, Act V, scene 3 by James Barry
  • Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene 5 by William Miller
  • Romeo and Juliet, Act IV, scene 5 John Opie
  • Romeo and Juliet, Act V, scene 3 by James Northcote
  • Hamlet, Act I, scene 4 by Henry Fuseli
  • Hamlet, Act IV, scene 5 by Benjamin West
  • Othello, Act II, scene 1 by Thomas Stothard
  • A Bedchamber, Desdemona in Bed Asleep from Othello, Act V, scene 2, by John Graham
  • Desdemona in Bed Asleep from Othello, Act V, scene 2, by Josiah Boydell
  • Shakespeare Nursed by Tragedy and Comedy by George Romney

Volume I

  • William Beechey
  • Infant Shakespeare by George Romney
  • Tempest, Act I, scene 1 by George Romney
  • Tempest, Act I, scene 2 by Henry Fuseli
  • Tempest, Act IV, scene 1 by Joseph Wright of Derby
  • Tempest, Act V, scene 1 by Francis Wheatley
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act V, scene 3 by Angelica Kauffman
  • Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I, scene 1 by Robert Smirke
  • Merry Wives of Windsor, Act II, scene 1 by William Peters
  • Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III, scene 3 by Matthew Peters
  • Merry Wives of Windsor, Act IV, scene 2 by James Durno[88]
  • Merry Wives of Windsor, Act V, scene 5 by Robert Smirke
  • Measure for Measure, Act I, scene 1 by Robert Smirke
  • Measure for Measure, Act V, scene 1 by Thomas Kirk
  • Comedy of Errors, Act V, scene 1 by John Francis Rigaud
  • Much Ado About Nothing, Act III, scene 1 by Matthew Peters
  • Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, scene 1 by William Hamilton
  • Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV, scene 2 by Robert Smirke
  • Love's Labour Lost, Act IV, scene 1 by William Hamilton
  • Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act II, scene 1 by Henry Fuseli
  • Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act IV, scene 1 by Henry Fuseli
  • Merchant of Venice, Act II, scene 5 by Robert Smirke
  • Merchant of Venice, Act V, scene 1 by William Hodges
  • As You Like It, Act I, scene 2 by John Downman
  • As You Like It, Act II, scene 1 by William Hodges
  • As You Like It, Act IV, scene 3 by Raphael Lamar West
  • As You Like It, Act V, scene 4 by William Hamilton
  • Taming of the Shrew, Introduction, scene 2 by Robert Smirke
  • Taming of the Shrew, Act III, scene 2 by Francis Wheatley
  • All's Well That Ends Well, Act V, scene 3 by Francis Wheatley
  • Twelfth Night, Act III, scene 4 by Johann Heinrich Ramberg
  • Twelfth Night, Act V, scene 1 by William Hamilton
  • Winter's Tale, Act II, scene 3 by John Opie
  • Winter's Tale, Act III, scene 3 by Joseph Wright of Derby
  • Winter's Tale, Act IV, scene 3 by Francis Wheatley
  • Winter's Tale, Act V, scene 3 by William Hamilton
  • Macbeth, Act I, scene 3 by Henry Fuseli
  • Macbeth, Act I, scene 5 by Richard Westall
  • Macbeth, Act IV, scene 1 by Joshua Reynolds
  • As You Like It, The Seven Ages, Act II, scene 7 by Robert Smirke



The Folio and Illustrated Edition lists were taken from Friedman's Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery.

List of art works

The Boydell enterprise's most enduring legacy was the folio. It was reissued throughout the 19th century, and in 1867, "by the aid of photography the whole series, excepting the portraits of their Majesties George III. and Queen Charlotte, is now presented in a handy form, suitable for ordinary libraries or the drawing-room table, and offered as an appropriate memorial of the tercentenary celebration of the poet's birth".[86] Scholars have described Boydell's folio as a precursor to the modern coffee table book.[87]

The paintings and engravings that were part of the Boydell Gallery affected the way Shakespeare's plays were staged, acted, and illustrated in the 19th century. They also became the subject of criticism in important works such as Romantic poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Lectures on Shakespeare" and William Hazlitt's dramatic criticism. Despite Charles Lamb's criticism of the Gallery's productions, Charles and Mary Lamb's children's book, Tales from Shakespeare (1807), was illustrated using plates from the project.[85]

The building in Pall Mall was purchased in 1805 by the British Institution, a private club of connoisseurs founded that year to hold exhibitions. It remained an important part of the London art scene until disbanded in 1867, typically holding a Spring exhibition of new works for sale from the start of February to the first week of May, and a loan exhibition of old masters, generally not for sale, from the first week of June to the end of August.[84]

George Romney.

From the outset, Boydell's project inspired imitators. In April 1788, after the announcement of the Shakespeare Gallery, but a year before its opening, Thomas Macklin opened a Gallery of the Poets in the former Royal Academy building on the south side of Pall Mall. The first exhibition featured one work from each of 19 artists, including Fuseli, Reynolds, and Thomas Gainsborough. The gallery added new paintings of subjects from poetry each year, and from 1790 supplemented these with scenes from the Bible. The Gallery of the Poets closed in 1797, and its contents were offered by lottery.[81] This did not deter Henry Fuseli from opening a Milton Gallery in the same building in 1799. Another such venture was the Historic Gallery opened by Robert Bowyer in Schomberg House at 87 Pall Mall in about 1793. The gallery accumulated 60 paintings (many by the same artists who worked for Boydell) commissioned to illustrate a new edition of David Hume's The History of Great Britain.[82] Ultimately, Bowyer had to seek parliamentary approval for a sale by lottery in 1805, and the other ventures, like Boydell's, also ended in financial failure.[82][83]

Print of a multivolume work in a decorative cabinet.
Both Robert Bowyer and Thomas Macklin embarked on illustrated editions of the Bible which were eventually joined together into "Bowyer's Bible".


In 1804, John Boydell decided to appeal to Parliament for a private bill to authorise a lottery to dispose of everything in his business. The bill received royal assent on 23 March, and by November the Boydells were ready to sell tickets.[78][79] John Boydell died before the lottery was drawn on 28 January 1805, but lived long enough to see each of the 22,000 tickets purchased at three guineas apiece (£240 each in modern terms). To encourage ticket sales and reduce unsold inventory, every purchaser was guaranteed to receive a print worth one guinea from the Boydell company's stock. There were 64 winning tickets for major prizes, the highest being the Gallery itself and its collection of paintings. This went to William Tassie, a gem engraver and cameo modeller, of Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square). Josiah offered to buy the gallery and its paintings back from Tassie for £10,000 (worth about £710,000 now), but Tassie refused and auctioned the paintings at Christie's.[80] The painting collection and two reliefs by Anne Damer fetched a total of £6,181 18s. 6d. The Banks sculpture group from the façade was initially intended to be kept as a monument for Boydell's tomb. Instead, it remained part of the façade of the building in its new guise as the British Institution until the building was torn down in 1868–69. The Banks sculpture was then moved to Stratford-upon-Avon and re-erected in New Place Garden between June and November 1870.[51] The lottery saved Josiah from bankruptcy and earned him £45,000, enabling him to begin business again as a printer.

The Boydells focused all their attention on the Shakespeare edition and other large projects, such as The History of the River Thames and The Complete Works of John Milton, rather than on lesser, more profitable ventures.[76] When both the Shakespeare enterprise and the Thames book failed, the firm had no capital to fall back upon. Beginning in 1789, with the onset of the French revolution, John Boydell's export business to Europe was cut off. By the late 1790s and early 19th century, the two-thirds of his business that depended upon the export trade was in serious financial difficulty.[51][77]

Although the Boydells ended with 1,384 subscriptions,[74] the rate of subscriptions dropped, and remaining subscriptions were also increasingly in doubt. Like many businesses at the time, the Boydell firm kept few records. Only the customers knew what they had purchased.[75] This caused numerous difficulties with debtors who claimed they had never subscribed or had subscribed for less. Many subscribers also defaulted, and Josiah Boydell spent years after John's death attempting to force them to pay.

The mix of engraving styles was criticised; line engraving was considered the superior form and artists and subscribers disliked the mixture of lesser forms with it.[71] Moreover, Boydell's engravers fell behind schedule, delaying the entire project.[29] He was forced to engage lesser artists, such as Hamilton and Smirke, at a lower price to finish the volumes as his business started to fail.[72] Modern art historians have generally concurred that the quality of the engravings, particularly in the folio, was poor. Moreover, the use of so many different artists and engravers led to a lack of stylistic cohesion.[73]

West said He looked over the Shakespeare prints and was sorry to see them of such inferior quality. He said that excepting that from His Lear by Sharpe, that from Northcote's children in the Tower, and some small ones, there were few that could be approved. Such a mixture of dotting and engraving, and such a general deficiency in respect of drawing which He observed the Engravers seemed to know little of, that the volumes presented a mass of works which He did not wonder many subscribers had declined to continue their subscription.[70]

By 1796, subscriptions to the edition had dropped by two-thirds.[29] The painter and diarist Joseph Farington recorded that this was a result of the poor engravings:

Two young boys with curls sleeping together as an armed man prepares to smother them and another holds a light assisting him.
Richard III: Act IV, Scene 3: Murder of the princes (1791), engraved by James Heath after a painting by James Northcote


Northcote, while appreciating Boydell's largesse, also criticised the results of the project: "With the exception of a few pictures by Joshua [Reynolds] and [John] Opie, and—I hope I may add—myself, it was such a collection of slip-slop imbecility as was dreadful to look at, and turned out, as I had expected it would, in the ruin of poor Boydell's affairs".[69]

What injury did not Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery do me with Shakespeare. To have Opie's Shakespeare, Northcote's Shakespeare, light headed Fuseli's Shakespeare, wooden-headed West's Shakespeare, deaf-headed Reynolds' Shakespeare, instead of my and everybody's Shakespeare. To be tied down to an authentic face of Juliet! To have Imogen's portrait! To confine the illimitable![68]
criticised the venture from the outset: Charles Lamb (1807) Tales from Shakespeare The essayist and soon-to-be co-author of the children's book [67] published a cartoon labelled "Boydell sacrificing the Works of Shakespeare to the Devil of Money-Bags".James Gillray [29]Criticism increased as the project dragged on: the first volume did not appear until 1791.

Fuseli himself may have written the review in the Analytical Review, which praised the general plan of the gallery while at the same time hesitating: "such a variety of subjects, it may be supposed, must exhibit a variety of powers; all cannot be the first; while some must soar, others must skim the meadow, and others content themselves to walk with dignity".[65] However, according to Frederick Burwick, critics in Germany "responded to the Shakespeare Gallery with far more thorough and meticulous attention than did the critics in England".[66]

This establishment may be considered with great truth, as the first stone of an English School of Painting; and it is peculiarly honourable to a great commercial country, that it is indebted for such a distinguished circumstance to a commercial character—such an institution—will place, in the Calendar of Arts, the name of Boydell in the same rank with the Medici of Italy.[64]
A man is kneeling before an altar where papers are burning, fanned by a fool. The smoke contains a variety of fanciful images. A mall gnome, sitting in a volume with the word
James Gillray's cartoon satirising the Boydell venture; caption reads: "Shakespeare Sacrificed; or, The Offering to Avarice"

At the beginning of the enterprise, reactions were generally positive.[63] The Public Advertiser wrote on 6 May 1789: "the pictures in general give a mirror of the poet ... [The Shakespeare Gallery] bids fair to form such an epoch in the History of the Fine Arts, as will establish and confirm the superiority of the English School".[64] The Times wrote a day later:

The gallery itself was a fashionable hit with the public. Newspapers carried updates of the construction of the gallery, down to drawings for the proposed façade.[61] The Daily Advertiser featured a weekly column on the gallery from May through August (exhibition season). Artists who had influence with the press, and Boydell himself, published anonymous articles to heighten interest in the gallery, which they hoped would increase sales of the edition.[62]

The Shakespeare Gallery, when it opened on 4 May 1789, contained 34 paintings, and by the end of its run it had between 167 and 170.[57] (The exact inventory is uncertain and most of the paintings have disappeared; only around 40 paintings can be identified with any certainty.[58]) According to Frederick Burwick, during its sixteen-year operation, the Gallery reflected the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism.[59] Works by artists such as James Northcote represent the conservative, neoclassical elements of the gallery, while those of Henry Fuseli represent the newly emerging Romantic movement. William Hazlitt praised Northcote in an essay entitled "On the Old Age of Artists", writing "I conceive any person would be more struck with Mr. Fuseli at first sight, but would wish to visit Mr. Northcote oftener."[60]

A nearly naked man with finely defined muscles stands strongly with his right arm upraised. In the background are three amorphous figures swirling around with hoods over their heads. There is a second man standing between the first and the figures, pushing the figures away.
Fuseli "reveled in the monumental and grotesque" in his scenes from Macbeth, engraving by James Caldwell[56]


The upper façade contained paired pilasters on either side, and a thick entablature and triangular pediment. The architect Sir John Soane criticised Dance's combination of slender pilasters and a heavy entablature as a "strange and extravagant absurdity".[54] The capitals topping the pilasters sported volutes in the shape of ammonite fossils. Dance invented this neo-classical feature, which became known as the Ammonite Order, specifically for the gallery. In a recess between the pilasters, Dance placed Thomas Banks's sculpture Shakespeare attended by Painting and Poetry, for which the artist was paid 500 guineas. The sculpture depicted Shakespeare, reclining against a rock, between the Dramatic Muse and the Genius of Painting. Beneath it was a panelled pedestal inscribed with a quotation from Hamlet: "He was a Man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again".[51][55]

The lower storey of the façade was dominated by a large, rounded-arched doorway in the centre. The unmoulded arch rested on wide piers, each broken by a narrow window, above which ran a simple cornice. Dance placed a transom across the doorway at the level of the cornice bearing the inscription "Shakespeare Gallery". Below the transom were the main entry doors, with glazed panels and side lights matching the flanking windows. A radial fanlight filled the lunette above the transom. In each of the spandrels to the left and right of the arch, Dance set a carving of a lyre inside a ribboned wreath. Above all this ran a panelled band course dividing the lower storey from the upper.[51]

Dance's Shakespeare Gallery building had a monumental, neoclassical stone front, and a full-length exhibition hall on the ground floor. Three interconnecting exhibition rooms occupied the upper floor, with a total of more than 4,000 square feet (370 m2) of wall space for displaying pictures. The two-storey façade was not especially large for the street, but its solid classicism had an imposing effect.[51] Some reports describe the exterior as "sheathed in copper".[53]

Engraving of a sculpture of a man seated on a rock, surrounded by two bare-breasted nymphs. One is playing a harp and placing a crown of laurels on his head.
Engraving by Benjamin Smith after Thomas Banks's sculpture of Shakespeare attended by Painting and Poetry

In June 1788, Boydell and his nephew secured the lease on a site at 52 William Pitt and William Wilberforce as members.[51]

Engraving of a building designed in the classical style, with pilasters, a pediment, and a statue on the top section, and a rounded arch over the doorway on the lower.
British Institution, wood-engraving by Mason Jackson after from a drawing by Henry Anelay.

Gallery building

The print folio, A Collection of Prints, From Pictures Painted for the Purpose of Illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakspeare, by the Artists of Great-Britain (1805), was originally intended to be a collection of the illustrations from the edition, but a few years into the project, Boydell altered his plan. He guessed that he could sell more folios and editions if the pictures were different. Of the 97 prints made from paintings, two-thirds of them were made by ten of the artists. Three artists account for one-third of the paintings. In all, 31 artists contributed works.[49]

There are 96 illustrations in the nine volumes of the illustrated edition and each play has at least one. Approximately two-thirds of the plays, 23 out of 36, are each illustrated by a single artist. Approximately two-thirds of the total number of illustrations, or 65, were completed by three artists: William Hamilton, Richard Westall, and Robert Smirke. The primary illustrators of the edition were known as book illustrators, whereas a majority of the artists included in the folio were known for their paintings.[49] Lennox-Boyd argues that the illustrations in the edition have a "uniformity and cohesiveness" that the folio lacks because the artists and engravers working on them understood book illustration while those working on the folio were working in an unfamiliar medium.[50]

Boydell's relationships with his illustrators were generally congenial. One of them, James Northcote, praised Boydell's liberal payments. He wrote in an 1821 letter that Boydell "did more for the advancement of the arts in England than the whole mass of the nobility put together! He paid me more nobly than any other person has done; and his memory I shall ever hold in reverence".[45] Boydell typically paid the painters between £105 to £210, and the engravers between £262 and £315.[46] Joshua Reynolds at first declined Boydell's offer to work on the project, but he agreed when pressed. Boydell offered Reynolds carte blanche for his paintings, giving him a down payment of £500, an extraordinary amount for an artist who had not even agreed to do a specific work. Boydell eventually paid him a total of £1,500.[47][48]

A man and a woman are at the center of the image, talking to each other. At the left of the image, a man is trying to rush in and confront them, but is held back by soldiers.
Angelica Kauffman described her scene from Troilus and Cressida, engraved by Luigi Schiavonetti for the folio: Troilus "sees his wife in loving discourse with Diomedes and he wants to rush into the tent to catch them by surprise, but Ulysses and the other keep him back by force".[44]

The folio and the illustrated Shakespeare edition were "by far the largest single engraving enterprise ever undertaken in England".[39] As print collector and dealer Christopher Lennox-Boyd explains, "had there not been a market for such engravings, not one of the paintings would have been commissioned, and few, if any, of the artists would have risked painting such elaborate compositions".[40] Scholars believe that a variety of engraving methods were employed and that line engraving was the "preferred medium" because it was "clear and hardwearing" and because it had a high reputation. Stipple engraving, which was quicker and often used to produce shading effects, wore out quicker and was valued less.[41] Many plates were a mixture of both. Several scholars have suggested that mezzotint and aquatint were also used.[42] Lennox-Boyd, however, claims that "close examination of the plates confirms" that these two methods were not used and argues that they were "totally unsuitable": mezzotint wore quickly and aquatint was too new (there would not have been enough artists capable of executing it).[40] Most of Boydell's engravers were also trained artists; for example, Bartolozzi was renowned for his stippling technique.[43]

Boydell sought out the most eminent painters and engravers of the day to contribute paintings for the gallery, engravings for the folio, and illustrations for the edition. Artists included Henry Fuseli, Benjamin West, Angelica Kauffman, Robert Smirke, John Opie, Francesco Bartolozzi, Thomas Kirk, Henry Thomson, and Boydell's nephew and business partner, Josiah Boydell.

Throughout the edition, modern (i.e. 18th-century) spelling was preferred as were First Folio readings.[38]

The thirty-six plays, printed from the texts of Reed and Malone, divide into the following three groups: (1) five plays of the first three numbers printed from Reed's edition of 1785 with many changes adopted from the Malone text of 1790 (2) King Lear and the six plays of the next three numbers printed from Malone's edition of 1790 but exhibiting conspicuous deviations from his basic text (3) twenty-four plays of the last twelve numbers also printed from Malone's text but made to conform to Steevens's own edition of 1793.[37]
Steevens, who had already edited two complete Shakespeare editions, was not asked to edit the text anew; instead, he picked which version of the text to reprint. Wenner describes the resulting hybrid edition: [36] He was also ultimately disappointed in the quality of the prints, but he said nothing to jeopardize the edition's sales.[36]Boydell was responsible for the "splendor", and
A man stands at the center of the engraving, dressed in armor. His sword is outstretched to his right and an elderly man is kissing it. At his right, a baby is lying in a bed, surrounded by soldiers.
The Winter's Tale, Act II, scene 3, engraved by Jean Pierre Simon from a painting by John Opie commissioned and prepared for engraving by the Shakespeare Gallery.

The "magnificent and accurate" Shakespeare edition which Boydell began in 1786 was to be the focus of his enterprise—he viewed the print folio and the gallery as offshoots of the main project.[16] In an advertisement prefacing the first volume of the edition, Nicol wrote that "splendor and magnificence, united with correctness of text were the great objects of this Edition".[32] The volumes themselves were handsome, with gilded pages that, unlike those in previous scholarly editions, were unencumbered by footnotes. Each play had its own title page followed by a list of "Persons in the Drama". Boydell spared no expense. He hired the typography experts William Bulmer and William Martin to develop and cut a new typeface specifically for the edition. Nicol explains in the preface that they "established a printing-house ... [and] a foundry to cast the types; and even a manufactory to make the ink".[33] Boydell also chose to use high-quality wove Whatman paper.[34] The illustrations were printed independently and could be inserted and removed as the purchaser desired. The first volumes of the Dramatic Works were published in 1791 and the last in 1805.[35]

An engraving taken from a painting shows Ophelia as a woman in a long white filmy dress with long blonde hair. She is beneath a large tree and holds onto a thin branch as she reaches out precariously over a river.
Richard Westall's Ophelia, engraved by J. Parker for Boydell's illustrated edition of Shakespeare's Dramatic Works

Illustrated Shakespeare edition and folio

Advertisements were issued and placed in newspapers. When a subscription was circulated for a medal to be struck, the copy read: "The encouragers of this great national undertaking will also have the satisfaction to know, that their names will be handed down to Posterity, as the Patrons of Native Genius, enrolled with their own hands, in the same book, with the best of Sovereigns."[30] The language of both the advertisement and the medal emphasised the role each subscriber played in the patronage of the arts. The subscribers were primarily middle-class Londoners, not aristocrats. Edmund Malone, himself an editor of a rival Shakespeare edition, wrote that "before the scheme was well-formed, or the proposals entirely printed off, near six hundred persons eagerly set down their names, and paid their subscriptions to a set of books and prints that will cost each person, I think, about ninety guineas; and on looking over the list, there were not above twenty names among them that anybody knew".[31]

The logistics of the enterprise were difficult to organise. Boydell and Nicol wanted to produce an illustrated edition of a multi-volume work and intended to bind and sell the 72 large prints separately in a folio. A gallery was required to exhibit the paintings from which the prints were drawn. The edition was to be financed through a subscription campaign, during which the buyers would pay part of the price up front and the remainder on delivery. This unusual practice was necessitated by the fact that over £350,000—an enormous sum at the time, worth about £37.5 million today[27]—was eventually spent.[28] The gallery opened in 1789 with 34 paintings and added 33 more in 1790 when the first engravings were published. The last volume of the edition and the Collection of Prints were published in 1803. In the middle of the project, Boydell decided that he could make more money if he published different prints in the folio than in the illustrated edition; as a result, the two sets of images are not identical.[29]

After the initial success of the Shakespeare Gallery, many wanted to take credit. Henry Fuseli long claimed that his planned Shakespeare ceiling (in imitation of the Sistine Chapel ceiling) had given Boydell the idea for the gallery.[24] James Northcote claimed that his Death of Wat Tyler and Murder of the Princes in the Tower had motivated Boydell to start the project.[25] However, according to Winifred Friedman, who has researched the Boydell Gallery, it was probably Joshua Reynolds's Royal Academy lectures on the superiority of history painting that influenced Boydell the most.[26]

However, as Frederick Burwick argues in his introduction to a collection of essays on the Boydell Gallery, "[w]hatever claims Boydell might make about furthering the cause of history painting in England, the actual rallying force that brought the artists together to create the Shakespeare Gallery was the promise of engraved publication and distribution of their works."[23]

[Boydell said] he should like to wipe away the stigma that all foreign critics threw on this nation—that they had no genius for historical painting. He said he was certain from his success in encouraging engraving that Englishmen wanted nothing but proper encouragement and a proper subject to excel in historical painting. The encouragement he would endeavor to find if a proper subject were pointed out. Mr. Nicol replied that there was one great National subject concerning which there could be no second opinion, and mentioned Shakespeare. The proposition was received with acclaim by the Alderman [John Boydell] and the whole company.[22]

Boydell wanted to use the edition to help stimulate a British school of history painting. He wrote in the "Preface" to the folio that he wanted "to advance that art towards maturity, and establish an English School of Historical Painting".[21] A court document used by Josiah to collect debts from customers after Boydell's death relates the story of the dinner and Boydell's motivations:

The idea of a grand Shakespeare edition was conceived during a dinner at the home of William Hayley, a poet; John Hoole, a scholar and translator of Tasso and Aristotle; and Daniel Braithwaite, secretary to the postmaster general and a patron of artists such as Romney and Angelica Kauffman. Most accounts also place the painter Paul Sandby at the gathering.[20]

Boydell's Shakespeare project contained three parts: an illustrated edition of Shakespeare's plays; a folio of prints from the gallery (originally intended to be a folio of prints from the edition of Shakespeare's plays); and a public gallery where the original paintings for the prints would hang.[17]

A printed prospectus that states the objectives of the Boydell project and those involved.
The prospectus for the Boydell venture states that "the foregoing work is undertaken in Honour of SHAKSPEARE,—with a view to encourage and improve the Arts of Painting and Engraving in this Kingdom".[16]

Boydell's Shakespeare venture


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