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Competing Galleries

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Competing Galleries

Matthew William Peters. The Death of Juliet. Oil painting, 1793

R. Rhodes after H. Fuseli. Midsummer Night's Dream. Act 3. Scene 1. Engraving, 1794

The success of Boydell’s ambitious enterprise inspired competition. Thomas Macklin’s Poets’ Gallery opened in 1788, offering illustrations to the works of fifty-five British poets, including Shakespeare. In particular, Macklin commissioned Henry Bunbury to produce illustrations to Shakespeare between 1792 and 1796. In Dublin, James Woodmason opened his Irish Shakespeare Gallery in 1793 before moving it to London the next year. Even Henry Fuseli opened the short-lived Milton Gallery in 1799.



James Woodmason opened his Irish Shakspeare Gallery in Dublin on May 1, 1793, but the exhibition was a failure. By January 16, 1794, Woodmason reopened his gallery in London, where it remained open until March 1795. The prospectus to his “New Shakspeare Gallery” reveals that Woodmason imagined an enterprise along the lines of Boydell’s, producing illustrations and text together.


Matthew Peters’s Death of Juliet was commissioned by the Irish Shakespeare Gallery. Contributing five paintings to Boydell’s and six paintings to Woodmason’s enterprise, Peters here illustrates a rarely represented moment when Juliet, dagger in hand, is poised to commit suicide. By focusing on her powerful figure looming over the dead Romeo, Peters makes us see Juliet as a tragic heroine.


Fuseli’s fantastic painting of Titania falling in love with Bottom was made for Woodmason’s Shakespeare Gallery in 1793.  His sophisticated fairies are for adults, not children, and Fuseli dresses several of the female fairies in exaggerated Regency fashion.  Rhodes beautifully captures this sexually-charged scene in his engraving, sold by Woodmason.  Fuseli worked for Boydell as well as Woodmason, but Rhodes did not. 


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  Exhibition Highlights

James Woodmason. New Shakspeare Gallery . . . Prospectus. London, 1794-5

Thomas Macklin. Receipt to Sir H. G. Calthorpe. Manuscript, 1794

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