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• Works of Art

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Works of Art: Paintings

More than half of the 200 paintings held at the Folger depict scenes from Shakespeare's plays and date from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. Among the notable painters represented in these works are Benjamin West, George Romney, Henry Fuseli, William Sully, William Hamilton, Robert Smirke, Richard Westall, and John Cawse. Other paintings include portraits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century actors and actresses.
A number of the Folger paintings are portraits of Shakespeare, constituting perhaps the largest such collection in the world. Only two images of Shakespeare are considered authentic, in the sense that they must have been approved by his friends or family—the Droeshout engraving in the First Folio, and the memorial bust at Stratford. The portraits at the Folger show the changing way Shakespeare has been imagined over the centuries.
Paintings from the Tudor and Stuart eras include portrait miniatures and the famous Plimpton "Sieve" portrait of Elizabeth I.
Largely uncataloged for many years, the Folger paintings collection was studied in the early 1990s by University of Maryland art historian William L. Pressly, who also curated the first major exhibition of Folger paintings. The resulting catalog of paintings, As Imagination Bodies Forth, was published in 1993.
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Nicholas Hilliard. Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester. Miniature on vellum, ca. 1590-95

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