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David Garrick
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The Most Painted Man in England



The portrait of Garrick holding a copy of Macbeth shown here is based on another painting by Nathaniel Dance (1735–1811), now lost. A pencil version can be found in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Garrick first met Dance in 1764 while in Rome on Grand Tour, describing him in a January 2, 1764 letter as “a great Genius, & will do what he pleases when he goes to London.” Garrick presented this portrait in 1774 to his friend the landscape artist John Taylor of Bath (1735–1806), whose inscription in the lower right describes the work as:

…in my own opinion, as well as every other person’s, allow’d to be the most true & striking likeness of that great Man, that ever was painted…

The gift to Taylor was in recognition of Taylor’s own generosity:  to reciprocate for complimentary poetry Garrick had penned about his landscapes, Taylor presented the Garricks with a painting in 1772 which hung in the Hampton dining room.  Garrick had this to say about Taylor’s gift:

We have scarcely look’d at any thing Else till this moment … It makes a most Noble figure—but my dear Sir—I am all gratitude, amazement & distress! What shall I do! & about ye elegant Frame! & what not!—My face will be but a poor return, tho’ surrounded wth solid brass…

The portrait shown here by Robert Edge Pine (1730? –1788) is one of several the artist made of Garrick.  It is possible the Folger’s portrait, where Garrick is seen holding a book with fluttering pages, is the painting Pine chose to show at the Royal Academy in 1780. Pine painted Garrick in character only twice, as Jaques in As You Like It, and Don Felix, Garrick’s farewell role, in The Wonder.  Pine exhibited in England and America and his 1784 show in Philadelphia was the first one-man art exhibition in this country (27 works, 11 on Shakespearean themes), and the earliest art exhibition catalogue to be published in America.

 

Garrick sat for all the great artists of his day.  The final painting in the right sidebar, produced under Sir Joshua Reynolds’ supervision, shows Garrick contentedly sitting with hands folded and pen put away, poised to enjoy his retirement.  Henry and Hester Thrale commissioned a similar version of it to display alongside a dozen other Reynolds portraits of their friends, including Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and Reynolds himself.

For more on the importance of portraiture to David Garrick, see Heather McPherson’s essay.


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Nathaniel Dance. David Garrick. Oil on canvas, 1774.



Robert Edge Pine. David Garrick. Oil on canvas, ca. 1780.



Studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds. David Garrick, The Prologue Portrait. Oil on canvas, ca. 1776-79.




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