Engraving of Shakespeare King Henry the Eighth, 1803
In 1789, the publisher John Boydell opened the Shakespeare Gallery, an exhibition space in London's Pall Mall showcasing paintings that exclusively represented scenes from Shakespeare's plays. The gallery was an attempt to revive history painting in contemporary British art, a genre thought to be of great public benefit because of its morally instructive messages. What better unifying theme for such a project than the works of Shakespeare, which had become so popular and so integral to British identity by the mid 18th century.
Image is 23" wide by 17" tall.
The Gallery opened in May 1789 with 34 canvases by 18 British artists. By the next year there were 55 paintings and in 1796 the total was 84.
Once the exhibition was mounted, reproductive engravings of all the paintings produced by an in-house team of 46 printmakers were available to purchase, either as a large portfolio of 90 prints or as a luxurious illustrated edition of the plays.