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The Collation

Mr. Folger's most expensive painting

There’s a persistent rumor that “Mr. Folger never paid more than x for a painting.” The value of x depends on who’s telling the story, but it’s generally around $2,000 and is used as evidence that he wasn’t interested in paintings. The rumor probably began with Mr. Folger himself. When negotiating with dealers, he sometimes allows as how he might consider purchasing the item in question, but it’s really not the sort of thing he usually collects, and in any case, he’s never paid more than some small amount for such a thing… You get the idea.

So, is the rumor about paintings true? No. In 1927, he paid over 25 times the legendary $2,000 for The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions, painted by George Romney (1734-1802). It cost £10,500, which worked out to $51,075.94 the day the bank draft was made. 1 

  1. For purposes of comparison, paying $51,076 for a commodity in 1927 is roughly equivalent to paying $675,000 in 2013. For purposes of discussing whether or not art is a commodity, please step into the nearest coffeehouse and pick a fight.


A collector I know bought a complete 100 print set of the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery. The one engraving he loved is, coincidentally, the subject of your blog: The infant Shakespeare attended by Nature and the Passions. London: J. & J. Boydell, 1799

Not caring much for the entire collection, He cut out this one print then had it beautifully framed. It hangs in his study to this day. Not discussing the rights and wrongs of breaking up plate books, I think the power of this print certainly was in operation here.

Gordon Hollis — December 3, 2013

Not being terribly visual, I hadn’t paid much attention to this painting until Erin gave a wonderful talk at the Cosmos Club Shakespeare group, and included it in the slides she showed us. The implicit deification of Shakespeare is striking, especially in conjunction with the first Stratford Jubilee around the same time that it was painted.

So I used this painting to illustrate my 2009 article on “The Psychology of Shakespearean Biography,” which contends that Shakespeare has become a sort of surrogate deity since the atheism of the late Enlightenment.

Richard M. Waugaman — December 4, 2013