The Folger art collection includes paintings and sculptures, works on paper, illustrated books, craft items, and more. Only part of the art collection relates directly to Shakespeare and his works, but even so, it is the world’s largest collection of Shakespearean art.
The Folger has about 200 paintings. A few date to Shakespeare’s day, like the Plimpton “Sieve” portrait of Elizabeth I by George Gower, dated 1579. Most are from the 18th and 19th centuries, including paintings by Henry Fuseli, Benjamin West, George Romney, and Thomas Nast. Among its most important paintings held by the Folger is Fuseli’s Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head, from 1793. More than half of the Folger paintings depict scenes from Shakespeare’s plays.
Works on Paper
The Folger collection of works on paper includes drawings, sketches, watercolors, photographs, and prints. Notable artists represented in the collection include Wenceslaus Hollar, Hans Vredeman de Vries, the van de Passe family, Abraham Bosse, George Cruikshank, Francis Hayman, and John Massey Wright. The Folger collection of drawings by George Romney is the second largest in North America and the third largest in the world.
Art Books and Sculpture
The Folger’s collection of art books includes fine-press books, comic books, extra-illustrated volumes, and artists’ books. Extra-illustration, which was popular in the 19th century, means adding other items, like portraits and letters, to an existing book, sometimes in such quantities that the book was rebound in multiple volumes. Artists’ books, often produced in only one copy, are works of modern art, sometimes resembling sculpture more than traditional book structure. The most important sculpture in the collection is Louis François Roubiliac’s terracotta figure of Shakespeare, dated 1757. It is the scale model for the life-size marble statue now at the British Library.
The Folger collection of “realia” (non-book objects in a library collection), is anchored by the Babette Craven Collection of Theatrical Memorabilia, one of the strongest postwar collections of early English ceramics. The Craven collection includes numerous rare English ceramic figures from potteries such as Derby, Bow, Wedgwood, and Minton, as well as plaques, tiles, boxes, and more. All of them celebrate figures of the 18th- and 19th-century English stage. There are almost countless Shakespeare-themed objects in the Folger collection, including snuffboxes, teapots, and spoons. Many of the wooden examples are said to be carved from the wood of a mulberry tree that once grew at New Place, Shakespeare’s last house at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Learn more about some of the art in our collection.
How To Find 14 Missing Pages of a Rare Book
Artist Research Fellow Alexander D’Agostino uses ChatCPT to help imagine what the fourteen missing pages of a magical Folger manuscript could be like.
Visualizing Race Virtually: Exploring the art of Shakespeare
David Sterling Brown writes about the images and ideas presented in his virtual-reality exhibition, which features art from the Folger collection.
David and Eva Garricks’ Villa at Hampton: Shakespeare in the Landscape
Folger Fellow Kasie Alt explores Eva Maria Garrick’s role in the landscaping of their Hampton estate.
The Fairy King’s Grimoire
A guest post by Alexander D’Agostino I am an artist working with queer histories and images, through performance and visual art. During my Artist Research Fellowship with the Folger, I am creating The Fairy King’s Grimoire: a reimagining of the…
Macbeth and the End of Slavery in the United States
What can Shakespeare say about the original sin of the United States, slavery? As two artists in the Civil War era thought, a lot. Two cartoons in the Folger’s collections, drawn around a decade apart, allude to Shakespeare’s Macbeth to…