When Garrick took his final bows at Drury Lane in June 1776, Londoners of all classes and stations clamored to see the great actor perform his most celebrated roles—Richard III, Ranger, Abel Drugger—for the last time. Foreign admirers, like financier Jacques Necker and his wife, Suzanne, traveled to London to witness his triumphant farewell. Equally renowned for his tragic and comic roles, Garrick left the stage on an upbeat note, going out as Don Felix in The Wonder . Although acting is an ephemeral art that vanishes with the actor, Garrick’s fame has endured. His engaging, naturalistic style of acting instantly and indelibly established his reputation, but it was Garrick’s genius for self-promotion and mastery of image-making and the media that set him apart. His features were recorded and widely disseminated in hundreds of images, which amplified his celebrity and posthumous reputation. This essay considers the artistic and cultural valence of the images and memorabilia that celebrated and commemorated Garrick—ranging from grand manner portraits to prints to collectibles, like Delftware tiles or scent bottles. It focuses on the seminal role images played in promoting Garrick’s public persona and sustaining his cultural preeminence and traces the convergence of art, performance, and modern celebrity culture.
Garrick’s impressive funeral at Westminster Abbey on 1 February 1779, spectacularly staged by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and the outpouring of posthumous tributes that followed testify to his extraordinary professional achievements and unprecedented renown. Reveling in his role as metteur en scène and chief mourner, Sheridan composed a moving elegy, Verses to the Memory of David Garrick, performed as a Monody at Drury Lane by Mrs. Yates, with music by Thomas Linley and scenery by Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg. Large crowds gathered to watch the somber procession of mourning coaches as it slowly made its way from the Adelphi, where Garrick had lain in state like royalty, to Westminster Abbey. Attended by aristocratic friends, such the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Camden, and Lord Spencer, members of the Club, and twenty-four leading actors from the two patent houses, Garrick was solemnly interred in Poets’ Corner under the monument to his beloved Shakespeare. An individual memorial, designed by Henry Webber, was erected in 1797. Garrick, standing beneath a profile portrait of Shakespeare, draws aside the curtains and histrionically materializes above the mourning figures of Tragedy and Comedy, as if to take a final curtain call.
Transcending his modest provincial origins, the high-spirited, ambitious lad from Lichfield morphed into a theatrical icon and cultural phenomenon, dominating the London stage as actor and manager for three decades. Besides his dramatic genius and versatility as an actor, what made Garrick exceptional was the extraordinary scope of his artistic and literary achievements, his professional and social status, and his international celebrity. A theatrical superstar who revolutionized and elevated the art of acting and professionalized the English stage, Garrick was also a talented dramatist and poet, an artistic patron and collector, and a cosmopolitan gentleman and man of taste. As his biographer Thomas Davies observed, “His house was a rendezvous for excellence of every kind;… for the learned, the elegant, the polite, and the accomplished in all arts and sciences.” Edmund Burke’s epitaph likewise underscored Garrick’s cosmopolitanism, literary talents, and lifelong devotion to Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was the chosen object of his study: in his action, and in his declamation he expressed all the fire, the enthusiasm, the energy, the facility, the endless variety of that great poet. Like him he was equally happy in the tragic and comic style. He entered into the true spirit of the poets, because he was himself a poet, and wrote many pieces with elegance and spirit. He raised the character of his profession to the rank of a liberal art, not only by his talents, but by the regularity and probity of his life and the elegance of his manners.
Through self-fashioning and image control, Garrick transformed himself into a national cultural icon whose appeal transcended ordinary social and class divisions and narrow professional interests.
Although contemporaries were virtually unanimous in their admiration for Garrick the actor, his public profile and powerful position as manager of Drury Lane placed him at the epicenter of theatrical debates and cultural politics, making him an appealing target for satirists and disgruntled actors or writers. Despite the widespread adulation he enjoyed, Garrick was frequently attacked in print and routinely satirized in pamphlets and caricatures. Early in his career his meteoric ascent was registered in satirical prints such as The Theatrical Steel-Yards of 1750 (1751), which depicts a balance of the players, with Garrick decisively outweighing all the performers at Covent Garden. The print humorously parses the rivalry between the two patent houses and Garrick’s ability to beat John Rich at his own game by producing a major Christmas pantomime at Drury Lane. Realizing the effectiveness of satire, Garrick used it defensively as a self- promotional tactic. In An Essay on Acting (1744), he humorously deflected criticism of his acting style and promoted his novel approach to Macbeth. His personal and professional differences with pugnacious actors and critics, such as Theophilus Cibber and Thaddeus Fitzpatrick, were publicly aired in the press and, in the case of Fitzpatrick, became the flashpoint that ignited the violent Half-Price Riots of 1763.
The contradictory nature of fame and the volatile combination of adulation and antipathy that Garrick inspired are showcased in an unusual hand-colored engraving entitled “Ah le bonhomme tout le monde l’aime!” (c. 1765), which satirizes his reception in Paris. Costumed in a black suit (perhaps as Hamlet?), his pockets bulging with feuilletons, Garrick is assaulted from all sides. Torn between the Opéra Comique and the antiquated tragedy of the Comédie Française, he is assailed by yapping journalists (represented by a dog) and the writings of Rousseau and Voltaire. The presence of an artist, sketching Garrick’s dramatic pose, slyly underscores the promotional and commercial value of his image and his personal vanity. This unique print, perhaps conceived as an inside joke, depicts all the constituencies Garrick normally contended with in a French context and humorously alludes to Reynolds’s famous conceit of Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy (discussed below).
By the mid-eighteenth century the actor was becoming a public personality whose public and private life was dissected in the press and whose image was widely diffused and commodified. When Garrick appeared as Richard III at Goodman’s Fields on 19 October 1741, he gained instant and lasting acclaim, electrifying the public with his nervous intensity, virtuoso technique, and gamut of physiognomic expression that externalized the preoccupations of the age. His riveting portrayal of Richard III, painted by Hogarth in 1745 and engraved in 1746, turned him into a popular icon, inaugurating a tradition of large-scale Shakespearean painting and launching the market for artistic prints of actors. Garrick was particularly renowned for his ability to effortlessly transform his features at will, assuming different countenances and characters in rapid succession. A star-struck dinner guest in Paris recounted how Garrick illustrated his observations on the passions “by alternately throwing his features into the representation of Love, Hatred, Terror, Pity, Jealousy, Desire, Joy in so rapid and striking a manner as astounded the whole company who acknowledged it was the finest instance of ‘nature’ that they had ever met with.”
The multifariousness and mutability of Garrick’s expressions are dramatically highlighted in R. Evan Sly’s amusing mechanical print, Garrick and Hogarth, or the Artist Puzzled (1845). Hogarth is shown at his easel, attempting to paint Garrick’s extraordinarily mobile face, which can be modified by rotating a hidden disc, revealing thirty different likenesses based on actual portraits. The caption repeats the well-known anecdote about Hogarth’s difficulties in painting Garrick: “While Garrick sat for Hogarth for his own picture he mischievously altered his countenance so as to render the portrait perfectly unlike,” forcing the artist to start over several times before discovering the trick. The print underscores the multiplicity of portraits Garrick inspired and the seeming impossibility of fixing his constantly changing features. In Hogarth’s celebrated portrait of Garrick as Richard III (1745; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), the face is painted on a separate piece of canvas, confirming his difficulties in transcribing Garrick’s elusive features. Even Gainsborough, who excelled at capturing a likeness, confessed that he “never found any portrait so difficult to hit as that of Mr. Garrick, … so flexible and universal was the countenance of this great player.” Like the frustrated artist in the print, the viewer is left dazzled and a bit perplexed—wondering which face—if any—is Garrick’s “true” face or whether, in fact, the consummate actor was subsumed completely in the role he was playing.
Theatrical Portraiture and Modern Celebrity
Garrick’s influence on the visual and performing arts was comprehensive and long lasting. Widely hailed as the Roscius of the modern age, he revolutionized the English stage by inaugurating a new age of the actor in which acting emerged as a cultural emblem and the actor’s image became culturally preeminent. In the eighteenth century the visual and performing arts were closely linked and shared a set of common preoccupations revolving around virtuoso display, connoisseurship, performance, and spectatorship. As Kalman Burnim observed: “English portrait painting and David Garrick came to their zenith together.” The fact that Sir Joshua Reynolds, first President of the Royal Academy and an enthusiastic theatergoer, painted four portraits of Garrick testifies to his awareness of the synergy between the studio and the stage. Reynolds’s masterly half-length depiction of Garrick as Kitely in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour (1768; Royal Collection) captures Garrick’s subtle characterization of the merchant’s obsessive jealousy and his tense watchful gaze. The portrait, which was engraved by James Finlayson in 1769, was presented to Edmund Burke, a close friend of both Garrick and Reynolds.
Although Garrick’s cult-like following and the enthusiasm he elicited—what I have dubbed “Garrickomania”—cannot be resurrected or (re)experienced, the parade of images produced during his lifetime and after testifies to the powerful and lasting impact he had on contemporaries. Garrick’s success at promoting his image depended, of course, on broader artistic and sociocultural developments—shifting patterns in cultural production and consumption, the growing significance of the visual and performing arts as indexes of nationalism and purveyors of celebrity in the rapidly expanding cultural marketplace, and the London theatrical monopoly, which favored the emergence of stars. By 1769 when he staged the Jubilee, Garrick’s image had merged and become thoroughly conflated with that of Shakespeare, whose apotheosis as England’s national bard owed so much to Garrick's promotional efforts as actor, manager, and high priest of Bardolatry.
The close connections between the studio and the stage are encapsulated in theatrical portraits, although images of actors are less straightforward than they appear. As Shearer West has shown, eighteenth-century theatrical portraits were both complex coded responses to performances, reflecting current notions about acting and portrait conventions, and commercial commodities that served a variety of purposes. Varying in scale and ambition, theatrical portraits most often represent an individual actor performing a particular role rather than a fully staged scene. Despite their documentary feel, they are selective artistic interpretations, intended to suggest rather than accurately record a performance. The development of the theatrical portrait was fueled by the growing emphasis upon the individual actor, the expansion of the press and the print market, and the rise of dramatic criticism in which acting technique and the connoisseurship of acting became central concerns. Not coincidentally, the emergence of theatrical portraiture coincided with the proliferation of public art exhibitions—part of a growing preoccupation with performance and public display that has been linked to new modes of spectatorship and the transformation of urban spaces and the geographies of representation. For eighteenth-century artists, like Reynolds, actors represented an appealing new class of subject that expanded the expressive parameters of portraiture and broadened its popular and commercial appeal. And for performers such as Garrick, theatrical portraits provided a powerful new promotional tool, which publicized and aestheticized the actor’s image and enhanced his cultural cachet.
The most distinguished actor of his era, Garrick was also emblematic of the commercialization and democratization of culture and the modern, market-oriented concept of celebrity that emerged during the second half of the eighteenth century. Garrick’s image—both onstage and off—was a valuable commodity in London’s celebrity-obsessed marketplace where public personalities and their private lives were eagerly chronicled by the press, catering to the public’s seemingly endless appetite for novelty, fashion, and scandal. This engraving depicting Garrick and his wife, the Viennese dancer Eva Maria Veigel, was published in the London Magazine on the occasion of their marriage (1749). More than anything else, it was the explosive democratizing power of the media—the rapid diffusion of news, books, pamphlets, portraits, and caricatures—that marked the advent of modern celebrity culture, in which the public played a crucial role in recognizing and validating fame. Garrick is widely recognized as the first actor to exploit the publicity value of theatrical paintings and prints—“the original master of media saturation.” The range of images, artifacts, and advertisements that reproduce and recontextualize Garrick’s image testifies to his promotional genius and his enduring popular and commercial appeal.
A trade card for John Lucas Tobacconist at the Abel Drugger in the Strand turns Garrick’s comic tour-de-force as Drugger in The Alchymist into a sales pitch for tobacco products. A smash hit in 1743, Garrick’s inspired interpretation of the simple-minded, gullible tobacconist remained one of his most popular roles. In Zoffany’s later depiction the costume is similar, although Garrick is shown bareheaded. This early advertisement anticipates the commercial tie-ins and promotional marketing of stars that became widespread in the nineteenth century. Rather than marketing Garrick the actor, the trade card for Hough Bookseller, Stationer, and Binder in Gloucester (c. 1770) highlights his image as a cultivated man of letters. The profile portrait of Garrick, accessorized with books and a quill pen, is appropriated to promote the book trade. The portrait resembles John Keyse Sherwin’s profile portrait (c. 1774; National Portrait Gallery, London), which was engraved. A gifted writer and enthusiastic bibliophile, Garrick formed an extensive personal library. He played an active role encouraging scholarship on early English drama and bequeathed his unrivaled collection of early English plays to the British Museum. Garrick’s passion for reading is further manifested in his elegant engraved bookplate, featuring a bust of Shakespeare and the attributes of Comedy and Tragedy. The French motto incites the borrower to read the book so as to return it as promptly as possible.
In the eighteenth century both painting and acting drew upon rhetorical and physiognomic traditions seeking to convey varied emotional states through gesture, attitude, and facial expression. Acting treatises, such as Roger Pickering’s Reflections upon Theatrical Expression in Tragedy (1755), insisted that the actor must be able to trace the human passions like a Demosthenes and render specific characteristics through voice, manner, gesture, and attitude. Moreover, Pickering admonished actors to study the best paintings, statues, and prints in order to perfect their representation of the passions. By mid-century, actors like Garrick, were sought out as models by the leading artists and their images were publicly exhibited and widely disseminated in prints. In a letter to Garrick dated 3 August 1749, the dramatist Aaron Hill flatteringly acknowledged his influence on the arts, observing, “how much the painters may improve, by copying Mr. Garrick, and what little room there is, for his improving, by the painters.” Rather than a disengaged, malleable model, Garrick was a knowledgeable collaborator and collector who took an active interest in the arts, advising artists such as Francis Hayman about painting theatrical subjects, and posing for and commissioning numerous portraits.
The visual arts played a central role in Garrick’s life; they elevated his public image, enriched his understanding of aesthetics and the visual components of acting, and embellished his well-appointed residences. Away from the theater, Garrick lived like an aristocrat—reveling in the prerogatives and external trappings of the seigniorial lifestyle—fine furnishings, an art collection, a coach, a country estate—and consciously cultivated his image as a writer, collector, and man of taste. As both friend and patron, he was closely associated with the leading artists—Hogarth, Hayman, Reynolds, Roubiliac, Gainsborough, and Zoffany—and formed a sizeable art collection in which modern pictures, especially theatrical portraits, and Shakespearean memorabilia eclipsed the Old Masters. His holdings included Hogarth’s celebrated Election Series of 1754 (which fetched the highest price at his sale), eight conversation pieces by Zoffany, paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hayman, and Loutherbourg, and several busts by Roubiliac. He also owned an extensive collection of engravings and illustrated books, including caricatures by Charles Bunbury and more than a hundred exceptionally fine Hogarth impressions. Matthew Darly dedicated his album of Macaronies, Characters, and Caricatures (1772) to Garrick in recognition of his enlightened patronage of printmakers. Besides their art historical or theatrical interest, the works in Garrick’s collection reflected his close personal ties with contemporary artists and his cosmopolitan outlook.
Garrick and Eva Maria entertained in style at their country estate at Hampton. Guests and close friends alike were charmed and impressed by their refined sociability and elegant taste. The Thames-side villa, stylishly furnished by Chippendale, was remodeled in the fashionable Neoclassical taste by Robert Adam, who also refurbished Drury Lane. The focal point of the spacious grounds, laid out by Capability Brown, was the Temple to Shakespeare (1755–56). The graceful Ionic temple, designed by Adam, housed Roubiliac’s life-size statue, the intricately carved Shakespeare Chair designed by Hogarth, and other precious Shakespearean relics. Visitors paid homage to Shakespeare and were encouraged to compose verses in his honor. Besides his activities as a patron and collector, Garrick was a subscribing member of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts and served on the committee charged with organizing the first public art exhibition of the Society of Artists in 1760. Not coincidentally, Hayman’s depiction of Garrick as Richard III (1760) figured prominently at the 1760 exhibition and was singled out for praise in the press. Throughout his career Garrick proved extraordinarily adept at keeping himself constantly in the public eye through a multitude of images ranging from paintings, some of which he commissioned, to inexpensive engravings, to decorative objects like the Derby porcelain figure of Tancred (c. 1765).
No actor of the pre-photographic era has been the subject of so many individual portraits as Garrick, ostensibly the most painted man in English history. Alongside countless depictions of Garrick performing his most popular tragic and comic roles—Hamlet, Lear, Ranger, Benedick , and Sir John Brute—there are a surprising number of non-theatrical portraits that testify to Garrick’s success at parlaying his celebrity into social prominence and promoting his persona as a cultivated gentleman and man of letters. Even more than his strategic commissioning of portraits, it was Garrick’s celebrity and adeptness at manipulating and perpetuating his image that differentiated and valorized him in the artistic and cultural marketplace. Dramatic Characters, or Different Portraits of the English Stage (1770), published by printsellers Robert Sayer and John Smith, illustrates how the fame machine functioned. This early compendium of Garrickiana, featuring twenty-four plates, primarily of Garrick in his most famous roles, was also dedicated to him. The dedication flatteringly salutes Garrick as a gentleman, a matchless actor of universal talents, and an author who has enriched English drama.
In Georgian England portraits fulfilled a variety of social, ideological, and commemorative functions. They commonly served as tokens of love or friendship and were often exchanged. Although most portraits were intended for private display, from the 1760s on they were prominently featured at public exhibitions and assumed heightened cultural and ideological significance. For instance, the theatrical portraits Garrick commissioned from Zoffany for his personal collection were exhibited publicly and widely diffused as engravings. Garrick also commissioned portraits as gifts for friends and admirers. In 1751 he commissioned pastel portraits of himself and his wife from Jean-Etienne Liotard as gifts for Lord and Lady Burlington, who displayed them at Chiswick House. Garrick recognized the exchange value of portraits, notably in the case of Batoni’s Grand Tour portrait (discussed below), and presented engraved portraits to friends and admirers in England and on the continent. Writing from Paris in 1764, he urged his brother, George, to send multiple impressions of the most famous prints—Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy after Reynolds, Lear and Hamlet after Wilson, Jaffier and Belvidera after Zoffany, and the Liotard portrait.
With the advent of public art exhibitions and the rise of celebrity culture, the popularity and publicity value of theatrical portraits rocketed. At the Society of Artists exhibitions in the 1760s and at the Royal Academy from 1768 onwards, portraits of Garrick attracted attention and critical praise. In the print market celebrity added to an engraving’s face value and drove sales. Prints of Garrick were pirated and reissued frequently well into the nineteenth century. On the occasion of the 1769 Jubilee, Gainsborough’s Portrait of Garrick with the Bust of Shakespeare was permanently installed in the Town Hall at Stratford-upon-Avon, publicly manifesting and consolidating his identification with Shakespeare.
Hogarth’s groundbreaking depiction of Garrick as Richard III (1745), engraved by Hogarth and Grignion in 1746, launched the vogue for theatrical portraiture. Through engravings and popular illustrated editions, such as Bell’s British Theatre, and the transfer print process that reproduced images on porcelain and enamel, depictions of Garrick performing his most celebrated stage roles reached a broader audience and permeated the domestic sphere. Hogarth’s iconic image, the most famous and frequently engraved theatrical portrait of the eighteenth century, was engraved at least fourteen times and even reproduced as a tapestry. Staffordshire figures depicting Garrick as Richard III in the Tent Scene were still being manufactured in the 1850s. In his ambitious life-size theatrical portrait Hogarth attempted to capture the expressive intensity and artistry of Garrick’s innovative naturalistic style of acting and translate its electrifying impact on eighteenth-century spectators. In the subscription ticket for the 1746 engraving, which incorporates a manuscript, a palette, and a mask, Hogarth explicitly aligned his art with Garrick’s acting and Shakespeare’s literary genius.
In the Tent Scene (V. iii) Richard III awakens suddenly from his terrifying nightmare. Audiences especially admired the “realistic horror” of the scene. Although Garrick’s galvanizing performance and his celebrity were doubtless the immediate catalyst, Hogarth realized that the actor posed a particular artistic challenge because of the expressiveness and mobility of his face. His ambitious attempt at melding portraiture and history painting, like Garrick’s acting, was indebted to physiognomic theory and Le Brun’s depiction of the passions. Although Garrick did not commission the picture, he took a proprietary interest in it. Writing to Somerset Draper in 1745, he inquired how Hogarth was getting on with the picture and whether he intended to engrave it. Besides their personal friendship, Garrick and Hogarth were linked by their common preoccupation with representing the passions and the reflexivity of painting and the stage.
Garrick’s sensational, career-defining performance as Richard III was represented by at least twenty different artists over three decades from the earliest rendering by Thomas Bardwell (signed and dated 1741) to Nathaniel Dance’s climactic 1771 painting of Richard III at Bosworth field (V. iv), brandishing his sword and roaring, “My kingdom for a horse.” The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1771 and engraved by John Dixon in 1772. Dance’s heroic depiction delighted Garrick, who sent copies of Dixon’s mezzotint to close friends. The numerous replicas (including the Folger copy) and the six different engravings after it attest to its extraordinary popularity. Dance’s dramatic portrayal of Garrick in the heat of battle, was also reproduced in porcelain. Indeed, the image was so indelibly engraved in the collective memory that it served as the template for subsequent depictions of Richard III from John Philip Kemble to Edmund Kean.
In the 1760s Johan Zoffany, the inventor of the theatrical conversation piece, meticulously recorded Garrick’s greatest comic roles for posterity. His scintillating depiction of David Garrick in the Farmer’s Return (1762), featuring a detailed Dutch-inspired interior, instantly established his artistic reputation. Painted in the two weeks between Garrick’s first performance and the opening of the Society of Artists exhibition in April 1762, Zoffany’s canvas illustrates the synergy between art, theater, and the celebrity cult. The picture was lavishly praised for its verisimilitude. One critic gushed, “a most accurate representation on canvas of that scene as performed at Drury Lane. The painter absolutely transports us in imagination back again to the theater. We see our favourite Garrick in the act of saying, ‘for yes, she knocked once—and for no she knocked twice.’” Walpole noted approvingly: “Good, like the actors, and the whole better than Hogarth!” Obviously impressed, Garrick commissioned several more theatrical subjects from Zoffany, which were exhibited and widely reproduced. Many exist in multiple versions, further attesting to their popularity. There are three versions of Garrick and Mrs. Cibber as Jaffier and Belvidera in Venice Preserv’d (1762–63), which Garrick commissioned to commemorate the 1762–63 revival of the play. The picture, which was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1763, was engraved by James McArdell (1764). Garrick as Sir John Brute in the Provok’d Wife (1763–65) was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1765, and Garrick as Lord Chalkstone in Lethe (1766) was exhibited in 1766. At the 1770 Royal Academy Exhibition, Garrick in the Alchymist (1770) was universally acclaimed. Reynolds, who purchased it for 100 guineas, graciously ceded it to the Earl of Carlisle for an additional twenty guineas to be given to the artist.
In the early 1760s Garrick also commissioned Zoffany to paint four non-theatrical conversation pieces celebrating the arcadian pleasures of life at Hampton, which were displayed in the dining room at the Adelphi. The pendants, depicting Mr. and Mrs. Garrick by the Shakespeare Temple and Mr. and Mrs. Garrick Taking Tea at Hampton, painted in 1762, like Garrick’s art collection and his elegant lifestyle, reinforced and visually reiterated his claims to gentility. Garrick, who was Zoffany’s first major patron, launched his career and owned more pictures by Zoffany than by any other artist. The theatrical subjects Garrick commissioned from Zoffany disseminated and perpetuated his image in his most celebrated roles and introduced a new prototype for theatrical portraits.
Garrick’s dramatic genius and broad box-office appeal are reflected in the antithetical characters he effortlessly inhabited —from drunken sailors to tragic princes—and in the hierarchy of images depicting him, ranging from inexpensive prints to grand manner paintings. At the top of the aesthetic hierarchy is Reynolds’s allegorical canvas, Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy (1760–61). Garrick’s ability to excel at both comedy and tragedy is playfully recast as the choice of Hercules, although since Garrick (like Shakespeare) triumphed in both genres, he was not actually obliged to choose. Reynolds complicates the intertexuality by incorporating the notion of pastiche in the figures of Tragedy and Comedy, whose contrasting artistic styles are modeled on Reni and Correggio. Both the painting and the mezzotint after it by Edward Fisher were exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1762. In celebrating Garrick’s protean talents, Reynolds was also highlighting his own powers of invention and his much-vaunted ability to elevate portraiture to the realm of history painting through allegory and allusions to the Old Masters. Reynolds’s claim that the picture was “begun and finished in a week” underscores his preoccupation with painting as a bravura performance.
Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy proved phenomenally popular and circulated widely as a print under different titles on both sides of the Channel. In 1765 George Colman wrote to Garrick from Paris: “There hang out here on every street, pirated prints of Reynolds’s Picture of you which are underwritten, ‘L’Homme entre le Vice et la Vertu.’” The epilogue to The Brothers (1770) by Cumberland flatteringly evoked Reynolds’s celebrated picture and Garrick’s immortal acting, and Webber referenced it in Garrick’s monument at Westminster Abbey (1797). But the ubiquity of the image also meant it could be appropriated to mock and denigrate Garrick, as in Matthew Darly’s satirical print of 1772. The accompanying text indicts Garrick for avarice, mistreating actors, and pandering to the lowest popular taste. In the print Garrick embraces commercialism and heedlessly tramples underfoot the plays of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Rowe. The derisive caption reads: “Behold the Muses Roscius sue in Vain/ Taylors & Carpenters usurp their Reign.” Although the author attacks the patent theaters and cultural decadence, Garrick is singled out for his crimes as manager—wrecking the careers of actors, failing to recognize genius, and swelling his pride and his purse by duping the public.
The numerous non-theatrical portraits of Garrick consolidated his image as a cultivated man of taste. Focusing on the private man rather than the actor, they highlight his social status as a gentleman and his literary vocation. Although primarily intended for private display, a surprising number were exhibited publicly and marketed as prints. Jean-Baptiste Van Loo’s genteel depiction (c. 1741) sets the stage. The young Garrick, fashionably dressed in a velvet coat and embroidered waistcoat, is portrayed leaning nonchalantly against on a stack of books, brandishing a quill pen. A version by Arthur Pond was engraved by John Wood in 1745, making it the earliest dated engraved portrait of Garrick. J. Wood’s engraving after it, published by Arthur Pond in April 1745, is the earliest engraved portrait of Garrick. Hogarth’s sprightly double portrait of David Garrick and His Wife (1757; Royal Collection), depicts Garrick, seated at a table, pondering the prologue he is writing for Samuel Foote’s Taste while his wife/muse playfully attempts to snatch his pen. Garrick commissioned the portrait and, I suspect, had a considerable hand in staging it. This lively yet intimate portrait, based on a French prototype by Van Loo, artfully interweaves the figures of Garrick and Eva Maria, highlighting their affectionate relationship, elegant taste, and conviviality. Reynolds’s less ebullient double portrait of Garrick Reading to His Wife (1772; National Portrait Gallery, London), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773, depicts the couple companionably seated out-of-doors at Hampton. Garrick, holding an open book, eagerly seeks his wife’s approval of his performance. Although Reynolds underscores the couple’s elegance and gentility, the portrait slyly reinforces the commonly voiced complaint that Garrick was always acting and soliciting applause even in private.
Gainsborough’s engaging half-length depiction of Garrick holding a book (1770; National Portrait Gallery, London), painted for Mrs. Garrick, testifies to the close friendship between artist and model and the parallel preoccupations of painting and the stage. In a letter to Garrick of 22 June 1772, Gainsborough apologizes for having kept the picture so long and confesses he had hoped to make a copy to hang in his parlor for his own enjoyment. In a follow-up letter he denounces the excesses of stage lighting and admonishes Garrick to hang his portrait breast high so it will retain its proper effect and likeness. In this relaxed portrait Garrick gazes directly at the viewer as if engaged in friendly conversation. When the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1770, it was praised as an excellent likeness. Gainsborough painted two replicas, one of which belonged to Garrick’s friend and financial advisor, James Clutterbuck.
Reynolds’s Prologue Portrait (c. 1775–76) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776, the year Garrick retired from the stage. Elegantly but simply dressed, he is seated, clasped hands resting on a folded sheet of paper inscribed “Prologue,” with books and an inkwell close by. The portrait commemorates Garrick not as an actor but as a man of letters, an image he assiduously cultivated. The original version, purchased in 1778 by the 3rd Duke of Dorset, was displayed at Knole alongside other literary portraits—Johnson, Goldsmith, and that of Reynolds—where it can still be seen today. The existence of multiple versions of the Prologue Portrait and several engravings after it attest to its popularity. The Thrales commissioned a replica they displayed in the library at Streatham Park with the portraits of a dozen literary luminaries including Johnson, Goldsmith, Burke, and Reynolds. The Folger version (c. 1776–79), which has a distinguished eighteenth-century provenance, is the product of Reynolds’s studio.
Garrick’s literary vocation and his close affiliation with Shakespeare are highlighted in a number of portraits from the 1770s, including Nathaniel Dance’s lively half-length depiction, which was engraved in 1773. Garrick, who met Dance in Rome in 1764, described the artist as “a great Genius,” and commissioned several portraits from him on his return to England. The original picture (now lost) was painted for Garrick’s friend, Lord Mansfield. As the inscription on it attests, Garrick presented the version now at the Folger to Bath landscape painter John Taylor in 1774. Taylor’s inscription salutes Dance’s portrait as “the most true, & striking likeness of that great man, that ever was painted.” Significantly, Garrick is portrayed with the text of Macbeth, his first major restaging of Shakespeare. Dance brilliantly spotlights his flushed cheeks and animated regard, capturing him in the throes of poetic inspiration.
During the 1770s and 1780s Robert Edge Pine painted numerous portraits of Garrick, including the Folger picture (c. 1780). In Pine’s impassioned depiction Garrick dramatically metamorphoses into Macbeth as he ponders the text in front of him. There is a slightly larger more finished version (c. 1776; National Portrait Gallery, London), which was engraved by William Dickinson (1778). In this unusual portrait Pine amalgamates the dueling personas of Garrick—playwright and actor, adaptor of Shakespeare and his leading interpreter—into a single emotionally charged image. Both the Dance and Pine portraits pay homage to Garrick’s 1755 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth of which he was particularly proud.
Garrick’s death on 20 January 1779 in no way curtailed the production and consumption of his images. Rather, it furnished the occasion for an outpouring of commemorative portraits and memorabilia honoring the modern Roscius. Pine produced several posthumous portraits, one of which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780, and an ambitious allegorical canvas depicting Garrick Speaking the Ode to Shakespeare (discussed below). Pine, who knew Garrick personally and shared his passion for Shakespeare, also painted a series of Shakespearean canvases, which were exhibited together at Spring Gardens in 1782 and in Philadelphia in 1784, anticipating Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, which opened in 1789. Shortly after Garrick’s death, Pine created an eerie posthumous tribute—a mezzotint portrait based on his death mask, but with the eyes added. The death-mask portrait, dated 4 April 1779, may have been created more as an act of homage than a commercial venture since few early impressions are known. Pine’s brooding, mask-like portrait, with its uncanny frozen gaze, emerges abruptly from the encroaching darkness. Conflating death mask and living portrait, it affirms the indelibility of Garrick’s features and powerfully asserts his immortality.
Pompeo Batoni’s elegant half-length portrait of Garrick pointing to an edition of Terence’s Comedies open to the page representing the mask of the Andria (1764; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) is a striking example of Garrick’s deployment of art as intellectual and cultural capital. This self-consciously staged portrait, by the leading Grand Tour portraitist, encapsulates Garrick’s overlapping roles as playwright, actor, antiquarian, and connoisseur. Antiquity and the eighteenth century coalesce as Garrick contemplates Terence. Although Garrick commissioned the portrait, he traded it to Richard Kaye for a cameo of a mask of a Bacchanal. The mask Garrick points to in the picture alludes to his famous ability to instantly transform his features to illustrate the passions and cleverly references the cameo he received in exchange from Kaye. In 1776 Garrick had the picture copied, underscoring its emblematic and personal significance. By linking his comic gifts to antiquity, Garrick reinforced his reputation as the Roscius of the modern age. However, his greatest stroke of genius in the arena of self-fashioning was undoubtedly the conflation of his image with Shakespeare's.
Garrick’s remarkable career paralleled and overlapped with Shakespeare’s consecration as England’s national poet and native genius and the rising tide of nationalist ideology that fueled the invention of Bardolatry. Catering to the growing popular demand for portraits and the classical revival, Josiah Wedgwood launched the “heads of illustrious moderns” series in 1773. Shakespeare was among the earliest portraits produced; three models were listed in the 1773 catalogue, and a black basalt bust was produced beginning in 1774. The 1779 catalogue listed 177 portraits of illustrious moderns, including Jasperware portrait medallions of Shakespeare and Garrick (inscribed as an English poet), both modeled by William Hackwood (1777). The classicizing profile portrait medallion of Garrick in Jasperware (c.1777–80) was modeled by Hackwood after a medal by Thomas Pingo dated 1772. The Garrick and Shakespeare medallions, produced concurrently in newly fashionable Jasperware, were easily paired complementary images. By evoking classical prototypes, Wedgwood’s mass-produced profile portraits invested illustrious moderns, like Garrick, with the timeless aura of antiquity. After mid-century the portraits of Garrick and Shakespeare were so frequently juxtaposed or overlaid in intaglios, prints, and memorabilia that their images began to merge.
In his dual capacity as actor and manager, Garrick played a seminal role in reclaiming Shakespeare for the stage and in translating and reincarnating his genius for eighteenth-century spectators. His performances of Shakespearean roles, notably Richard III, Lear, and Hamlet, were admired by contemporaries and greatly enhanced his reputation as a serious actor. Moreover, he adapted and “restored” many of Shakespeare’s plays for the modern stage and made them staples of the Drury Lane repertoire. Under Garrick’s management, roughly twenty-seven percent of the tragedies and sixteen percent of the comedies staged at Drury Lane were adaptations of Shakespeare.
Although Garrick did not actually initiate the Shakespeare revival, as has sometimes been claimed, he assiduously cultivated and promoted his public ties and personal affinities with the nation’s bard. With the consecration of Peter Scheemaker’s statue of Shakespeare at Westminster Abbey in 1741, England’s national poet became firmly ensconced in the public sphere and in the national psyche as a powerful and contested cultural icon. In the cultural skirmishing of the 1730s Shakespeare was initially associated with Opposition politics and British liberty, notably at Stowe where his bust was first displayed in a nationalist context at the Temple of British Worthies beside those of Milton and Locke. As the leading promoter and living continuator of Shakespeare, Garrick ultimately managed to upstage and overshadow the elegiac Westminster memorial by reclaiming Shakespeare for the modern stage and launching the modern Shakespeare industry in 1769.
From the outset Garrick hitched his star to Shakespeare’s, appearing for the first time incognito in the pantomimeHarlequin Student, which featured a monument to Shakespeare. He made his official stage debut as Richard III in 1741, and made the pilgrimage to Stratford in 1742. Garrick’s affiliation with Shakespeare reached new heights with the erection of the Shakespeare Temple at Hampton (1755–56), adorned with a life-size marble statue of Shakespeare by Roubiliac, attaining its zenith with his inspired staging of the Stratford Jubilee (1769), which featured Garrick reciting his “Ode to Shakespeare.” Besides Garrick’s “Ode,” planned festivities included a procession to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Dr. Arne’s oratorio, Judith, costume balls, fireworks, and a horse race, though no actual plays by Shakespeare were performed. Torrential rains forced Garrick to cancel the Jubilee procession of Shakespearean characters. Although Granger’s Biographical History of England (1769) may have overstated the case, in the wake of the Jubilee few contemporaries would have disagreed:
Mr. Garrick, who thoroughly understands Shakespeare, has exhibited a thousand of his beauties, which had before escaped the mob of actors and readers; and has carried his fame much higher than it was carried in any other period. It is hard to say whether Shakespeare owes more to Garrick, or Garrick to Shakespeare.
By the 1750s Garrick and Shakespeare had become as conflated in the eyes of the public as they were in Louis-François Roubiliac’s celebrated statue (1758), for which Garrick is said to have posed. Since the few portraits of Shakespeare with any claim to authenticity—the engraving by Martin Droeshout and the Stratford monument by Gerard Johnson—were inadequate and failed to satisfy the public’s appetite for a modern living effigy, it is not surprising that Garrick’s features increasingly came to fill that void. In Roubiliac’s statue the austere literary image of Shakespeare, canonized at Westminster Abbey, has been humanized and individualized and, like Hermione in Winter’s Tale, appears poised to descend from the pedestal and speak.
Although Roubiliac modeled his statue on the “Chandos portrait” (London, National Portrait Gallery) the finished statue bears little resemblance to it. The animated expression, the arrested pose and sense of movement, and the virtuoso rendering of textures are distinctly eighteenth-century features that modernize and particularize the Hampton Shakespeare. At the 1760 Society of Artists exhibition Roubiliac exhibited a maquette of his statue, patriotically hailed as “a model of Shakespeare lent to celebrate the first English art exhibition.” The Folger’s meticulously finished terracotta maquette (signed and dated 1757) illuminates Roubiliac’s creative process—the subtle modification of the figure’s pose and the seamless amalgamation of Shakespeare and Garrick. It represents Shakespeare in the fugue of inspiration—gazing off in the distance, his left hand and index finger touching his mouth. This intimate, individualized depiction more directly translates Garrick’s mercurial personality and naturalistic mode of acting than the more decorous final version. The close personal ties and artistic affinities linking Roubiliac and Garrick are also manifested in Roubiliac’s ungainly French verses, recopied in Garrick’s hand. The poem refers to the bronze bust of Garrick that Roubiliac gave Mrs. Garrick for the Shakespeare Temple. Mirroring and complementing the Hampton statue, the poem equates Garrick’s genius with that of Shakespeare and evokes the difficulties of painting the passions.
Roubiliac’s Shakespeare, like Garrick’s Shakespearean adaptations, is a complex mix of past and present in which the original model has been transformed and embellished to suit eighteenth-century tastes. French travel writer P.J. Grosley extolled the statue as, “in itself very fine, and rendered still more so by the intention of him who caused it to be erected.” He also underscored Garrick’s pleasure in performing the honors “in a manner which inhances [sic] his merit in erecting it: ‘I owe every thing,’ says he, ‘to Shakespeare.’” Though modeled after the “Chandos portrait,” Roubiliac’s statue also references Scheemaker’s monument at Westminster—unveiled the year Garrick made his stage debut. Under Roubiliac’s chisel Shakespeare has been rejuvenated and reincarnated in the guise of his greatest interpreter and idolator. As Michael Dobson has argued, it was the complex interrelations between Shakespeare and Garrick’s art and Protestant nationalism—the mutually reinforcing trinity of Shakespeare, Garrick, and middle-class virtue—that enabled Garrick to realize his social and cultural ambitions.
The Shakespeare Jubilee was accidentally launched in December 1767 when the Stratford Corporation wrote to Garrick to solicit his aid in decorating the new Town Hall. Saluting all he had done to honor Shakespeare’s memory, they requested that he send a statue bust or picture of Shakespeare and a picture of himself to hang together in the Town Hall, “that the Memory of both may be perpetuated together in that place which gave him birth.” In recompense the Corporation offered him the Freedom of Stratford and a casket carved from Shakespeare’s own mulberry tree. Touched and flattered, Garrick readily accepted. The Jubilee project gradually began to take shape; the first press advertisement appeared in May 1769. One of the most egregious public manifestations of Garrick’s self-aggrandizing affiliation with Shakespeare was Gainsborough’s Portrait of Garrick with the Bust of Shakespeare, installed in the newly constructed Town Hall. When the portrait was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1766, one critic quipped, “he seems as fond of it [Shakespeare’s bust] as if some benevolent God had metamorphosized him into the same substance.” Imitating the pose of the Westminster monument, Garrick proprietarily embraces and upstages the bust of Shakespeare to whom he owed so much. As John Brewer noted, the Bard appears to incline his head towards Garrick, as if acknowledging the actor’s unique status as his priest and protector.
In the late 1760s Gainsborough was also working on an imaginary portrait of Shakespeare, recently rediscovered lurking beneath Gainsborough’s Portrait of Johann Christian Fischer (1774). Writing to Garrick in 1768, Gainsborough ridiculed the inadequacies of the existing likenesses and vented his frustration in attempting to portray Shakespeare’s inimitable soul. Although the documentation is scanty, it is tempting to link Gainsborough’s aborted portrait to the Jubilee since we know Garrick gave the Corporation a portrait of Shakespeare by Benjamin Wilson together with a copy of Scheemaker’s Westminster statue. The composite x-ray of the abandoned portrait reveals a murky image of Shakespeare with a quill and a kneeling woman holding a mask, presumably representing Comedy. In painting the Portrait of Fischer, which references Scheemakers’s monument, Gainsborough painted over and seemingly exorcised the spirit of Shakespeare.
Garrick, the self-appointed Steward of the Jubilee, turned Bardolatry into a popular religion and launched a cultural industry that still flourishes. He took a hands-on role in planning and execution, even designing the Shakespeare favors that visitors wore. Benjamin Van der Gucht’s contemplative half-length portrait (1769) represents Garrick in his ceremonial role as Steward, clutching the mulberry wand, and gazing raptly at the sacred icon he holds—the Shakespeare medallion—channeling or worshiping his idol. In painted portraits, prints, and Jubilee memorabilia, Garrick and Shakespeare became inseparable and virtually interchangeable, anticipating the epitaph inscribed on the actor’s tomb at Westminster Abbey: “Shakespeare and Garrick like twin-stars shall shine/ And earth irradiate with a beam divine.”
The double-sided enamel medallion depicting a youthful Garrick as Hamlet on one side and Shakespeare on the other (1769) is emblematic of this conflation. “Who held the mirror up to nature” appears above Garrick’s head, and the Jubilee motto, “We ne’er shall look upon his like again,” accompanies Shakespeare’s bust. Although each is a recognizable likeness, they have a distinct familial resemblance. The image of Garrick, which is slightly larger and more vivid, becomes the living embodiment and surrogate of Shakespeare just as Garrick did at the Jubilee. Likewise, J.S Müller’s print decoratively links the laurel-bedecked profile portraits of Shakespeare and Garrick (wigless), whose physiognomy is strikingly similar. They share the high domed forehead and intense regard commonly associated with genius, and the attributes of Tragedy and Comedy occupy the space between them. The profiles of Garrick and Shakespeare are also juxtaposed in a series of translucent Tassie glass intaglios (c. 1780) produced after Garrick’s death. In a stunning intaglio measuring only a little more than an inch tall, the two images are literally overlaid—Shakespeare’s profile appears behind Garrick’s so that the profiles merge.
One of the most extraordinary intertextual artifacts linking Garrick and Shakespeare is the circular enamel plaque by John Howes after Cipriani (1777). Garrick is portrayed in classical garb, holding an antique mask and dramatically unveiling a double herm of Shakespeare and the Ephesian Diana. The actors of Drury Lane presented the medal to Garrick “in testimony of their gratitude for his having raised and supported by his excellent performance on the stage, and finally established by an Act of Parliament obtained by his interest, and at his sole expence the Theatrical Fund.” The medal was exhibited at the Royal Academy and mentioned in the press. Walpole, who dismissed it as “very bad and unlike,” clearly missed the point. In Cipriani’s conceit, Garrick, the modern Roscius, clad in a purple toga like a Roman emperor, holds up a tragic mask and unveils the bust of Shakespeare, fused with the multi-breasted Ephesian Diana, embodying inexhaustible Nature.
A marketing masterpiece that aroused enormous public interest, the Shakespeare Jubilee confirmed Garrick’s genius for publicity and self-promotion and launched Bardolatry and the Stratford tourist industry. The climactic moment was Garrick’s dramatic recitation of the Ode to Shakespeare—the moment when he was literally apotheosized as the high priest and living reincarnation of Shakespeare. The print depicts Garrick declaiming, surrounded by singers and musicians, directly below Shakespeare’s statue, with the sacred mulberry medal around his neck. Triumphing over adversity and the inclement weather, Garrick gave the performance of his life, enrapturing even his detractors. Although Shakespeare is apostrophized in the ode as the “god of our idolatry,” he is upstaged and symbolically replaced by Garrick in his role as high priest.
Even though the Jubilee procession of Shakespearean characters was rained out at Stratford, prints and a handkerchief commemorating it were produced as if it had actually occurred. Capitalizing on the flood of publicity surrounding the events at Stratford, Garrick spectacularly restaged The Jubilee as an afterpiece at Drury Lane. It was a smash hit, playing ninety-one times that season to packed houses. Garrick’s dramatic recitation of the Ode was re-envisioned and mythologized as a bombastic spectacle in Pine’s commemorative canvas (now lost), engraved by Caroline Watson (1784). In the print, captioned with the concluding lines of the Jubilee Ode, Garrick apostrophizes and upstages the statue of Shakespeare, surrounded by a chorus of his most famous characters, and the Tragic and Comic Muses. It is hardly surprising that when Garrick died in 1779, the Ode’s famous encomium to Shakespeare, “We ne’er shall look upon his like again!” morphed into a tribute to England’s greatest actor.
George Carter’s histrionic canvas, The Apotheosis of Garrick (1782; Royal Shakespeare Company Collection, Stratford-upon-Avon) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784. Hoping to cash in on the market for Garrickiana, the picture was engraved in 1783 with a key plate identifying the principal figures. Modern viewers have tended to concur with Walpole’s caustic summation, “ridiculous and bad.” In Carter’s over-the-top picture Garrick—dressed in white like a Christian martyr or saint—is spirited aloft toward Parnassus by angels while the leading contemporary actors, costumed as Shakespearean characters, mournfully bid him farewell. Perched on a misty hilltop is the tiny figure of Shakespeare, flanked by the Tragic and Comic Muses, whom Garrick had served with equal distinction. In his prologue to The Clandestine Marriage, Garrick bemoaned the ephemeral nature of the actor’s craft and theatrical fame: "No pen nor pencil can the Actor save, /The art, and artist, share one common grave." Defying his own prediction, Garrick's fame as an actor has survived the vicissitudes of time and his image has continued to evolve and proliferate.
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