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Shakespeare & Beyond

Drawing Shakespeare: King Lear

King Lear by Paul Glenshaw
King Lear by Paul Glenshaw
King Lear by Paul Glenshaw

Bas-relief of a scene from King Lear. Drawing by Paul Glenshaw.

This is the seventh post in a series by artist Paul Glenshaw about drawing the bas-reliefs by sculptor John Gregory on the front of the Folger Shakespeare Library building. The series examines the bas-reliefs one by one; each sculpture depicts a scene from a different Shakespeare play. Today’s post is about the bas-relief of a scene from King Lear.

To Please a Patron

Henry Folger didn’t live to see the sculptures he’d commissioned from John Gregory put in place on the exterior of the Folger Shakespeare Library. We don’t even know what he thought of Gregory’s particular designs – except the one for King Lear. Only a month before his death, Folger visited Gregory’s studio, describing the visit in a letter to Paul Phillipe Cret, the architect of the library, who had personally recommended Gregory to Folger.

“We spent a very happy hour yesterday afternoon in Mr. Gregory’s studio,” Folger wrote. “I will confess I have been much worried, fearing that he might not be equal to the task put upon him…” From the letter, we can tell that Gregory was at an early stage of the process and showed Folger preliminary studies of the sculptures, with Lear being the most complete. Folger’s fears had already been allayed, and he devotes the bulk of the letter to his comments about Lear.

He is certainly pleased, saying, “Just as it is, I believe the sculpture could go into place and be highly satisfactory,” he writes. However, Folger couldn’t resist weighing in on every aspect of his library’s creation: “But there are two or three things, of minor importance, which I would like to submit to you [Cret] to use as you may think best.”