Painting Shakespeare

Press Contacts 
Garland Scott
(202) 675–0342, gscott@folger.edu

Esther French
(202) 675–0326, efrench@folger.edu

Ben Lauer
(202) 675–0376, blauer@folger.edu
 
Press Preview
Fri, May 12, 1–5pm
 
Curator-Led Exhibition Tour
Wed, May 17, 2pm
Reservations requested:
press@folger.edu or (202) 675–0342
 
Exhibition Images
Download from Dropbox

On Exhibit

May 13, 2017 – February 11, 2018


Washington, DC—Paintings from the Folger collection turn the Great Hall into an art gallery, filled with vivid, and sometimes surprising, images of Shakespeare and his works for the Folger’s newest exhibition.
 
Painting Shakespeare, curated by Erin Blake, includes 21 works from the Folger paintings collection—one of the world's major holdings of Shakespeare paintings. Works on view range from large oil paintings of key scenes in Shakespeare's plays to a modern-art portrait of Shakespeare, early American folk art, painted sketches and studies, and much more.  
 
While displaying the glories of the paintings collection, Painting Shakespeare tells its stories, too. One recently acquired work was discovered by a collector at an American estate sale—where the painting was wrongly described as depicting a youth in a cave. His research showed instead that it pictured Shakespeare's heroine Imogen from the play Cymbeline. British artist Richard Westall created the work for John Boydell's 18th-century Shakespeare Gallery in London. Since many works from the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery can no longer be traced, this was an exciting find. The Folger has 12 "Boydells" in its collection. Three of them, including the Imogen painting, are in this exhibition.
 
Another story centers on one of many "portraits of Shakespeare" in the Folger collection—in this case, a painting of an unknown man from the early 1600s that someone had touched up to look more like Shakespeare. In 1988, conservators restored the work to its original state. Ironically, the painting now looks more like many people's mental image of Shakespeare than the previous, faked version, tracing a shift in popular ideas about the playwright. 
 
Paintings are just one aspect of the Folger's Shakespeare collection, which includes not only rare books and manuscripts, but scrapbooks, porcelains, prints, drawings, and many other materials. By their nature, however, paintings have had a special role in the Folger's exhibition space and other public areas. One section of Painting Shakespeare recreates a small part of the Great Hall as it appeared when the Folger Shakespeare Library opened in April 1932. Based on an archival image, the same paintings from the Folger collection are hung in an identical arrangement, bringing the black-and-white photograph to life. 

Exhibition Highlights

  • Henry Fuseli's Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head (1793), a terror-filled, fantastic image of a scene from Macbeth, and one of the Folger collection's treasures.
     
  • Umberto Romano's Shakespeare Recites Shakespeare (ca. 1960s), a modern, semi-abstract work by an American artist that pictures Shakespeare as author and actor, delivering his own lines 
     
  • Reverend Matthew William Peters's The Death of Juliet (1793), a towering portrait of Juliet's final moments, with Romeo dead at her feet
     
  • Thomas Nast's study for "The Immortal Light of Genius" (1895), a sketch for a painting of Comedy and Tragedy bringing laurel wreaths to a glowing bust of Shakespeare
     
  • George Francis's Mr. Garrick in the Character of King Lear (1810), an extraordinary early American work of folk art, based on a British print of Lear in the storm
     
  • George Romney's The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions (ca. 1791–92), a work for which Henry and Emily Folger paid more than for any other painting
     
  • Francis Hayman's The Play Scene from "Hamlet" (ca. 1745), a painted sketch that captures the moment in Hamlet when Claudius leaps up during a play, betraying his guilt

The exhibition includes a media station with a video on unpacking and mounting the Folger's largest painting and an interactive touchscreen offering a reconstruction of the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in 18th-century London. 
 
Painting Shakespeare is part of the European Month of Culture in May 2017, a month of art, performance, and other cultural offerings at a variety of institutions in Washington, DC, with the hashtag #EUMC2017.
 
Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Winton and Carolyn Blount exhibition fund for the Folger Shakespeare Library.
 

ABOUT THE CURATOR

Erin Blake is head of collection information services at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where she previously was curator of art for 14 years. She was chief editor of Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Graphics), the national standard for art cataloging in libraries, and is a faculty member of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, where she teaches “Introduction to the History of Book Illustration” every summer. Erin holds a BA (Hons.) in history and art history from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, and a PhD in art history from Stanford University.
 

ONLINE RESOURCES

Featured website
What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org) includes a reconstruction of the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery of paintings as it appeared in London in 1796. That portion of the site is also included in the exhibition. 
 
Folger website and social media
The exhibition is featured on the Folger's website at www.folger.edu/paintingshakespeare, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter via the hashtag #PaintingShakespeare
 

VISITOR SERVICES

Folger Shakespeare Library is located at 201 East Capitol Street, Washington, DC 20003, one block east of the US Capitol. 
 
Families 
Large, visual, and full of stories, Shakespeare paintings offer numerous opportunities to connect with families and young visitors. Activity labels appear near many paintings in the exhibition, and the Prop Drop station offers props and lines from Shakespeare's plays. 
 
Hours and Admission
Monday through Saturday, 10am–5pm
Sunday, noon–5pm
Admission is free.
 
Tours 
Monday–Saturday at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm; Sunday at 12pm and 3pm

Folger docents offer guided tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger’s national landmark building, free of charge. No advance reservations required. 
 
Wednesday at 12pm; Saturday at 2pm

Folger docents offer a special exhibition-focused tour, free of charge. No advance reservations required. 
 
Group Tours 
Docent-led tours of the exhibition, as well as the Folger's national landmark building, are offered for groups of 10 or more. To arrange, please call (202) 675–0395. 
 

ABOUT THE FOLGER 

Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the ultimate resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world. The Folger welcomes millions of visitors online and in person. We provide unparalleled access to a huge array of resources, from original sources to modern interpretations. With the Folger, you can experience the power of performance, the wonder of exhibitions, and the excitement of pathbreaking research. We offer the opportunity to see and even work with early modern sources, driving discovery and transforming education for students of all ages. Join us online, on the road, or in Washington, DC. 

Learn more at www.folger.edu, and on social media at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Connect with our e-newsletters and blogs at www.folger.edu/connect

 

Press Contacts 
Garland Scott
(202) 675–0342, gscott@folger.edu

Esther French
(202) 675–0326, efrench@folger.edu

Ben Lauer
(202) 675–0376, blauer@folger.edu
 
Press Preview
Fri, May 12, 1–5pm
 
Curator-Led Exhibition Tour
Wed, May 17, 2pm
Reservations requested:
press@folger.edu or (202) 675–0342
 
Exhibition Images
Download from Dropbox