« AnteriorContinuar »
than the entire countenance and part of the ruff is left; for the pannel having been split off on one side, the rest was curtailed and adapted to a small frame. On the back of it is the following inscription, written in a very old hand: "Guil. Shakspeare,' 1597.8 R. N." Whether these initials belong to the painter, or a former owner of the picture, is uncertain. It is clear, however, that this is the identical head from which not only the engraving by Droeshout in 1623, but that of Marshall in 1640 was made; and though the hazards our
of suspicious aspect; though for want of a more authentick archetype, some few hints were received, or pretended to be received, from it.
Roubiliac, towards the close of his life, amused himself by painting in oil, though with little success. Mr. Felton has his poor copy of the Chandos picture in which our author exhibits the complexion of a Jew, or rather that of a chimney-sweeper in the jaundice.
It is singular that neither Garrick, or his friends, should have desired Roubiliac at least to look at the two earliest prints of Shakspeare; and yet even Scheemaker is known to have had no other model for our author's head, than the mezzotinto by Zoust.
• A broker now in the Minories declares, that it is his usual practice to cut down such portraits, as are painted on wood, to the size of such spare frames as he happens to have in his posses
It is observable, that this hand-writing is of the age of Elizabeth, and that the name of Shakspeare is set down as he himself has spelt it.
"The age of the person represented agrees with the date on the back of the picture. In 1597 our author was in his 33d year, and in the meridian of his reputation, a period at which his resemblance was most likely to have been secured.
• It has hitherto been supposed that Marshall's production was borrowed from that of his predecessor. But it is now manifest that he has given the very singular ruff of Shakspeare as it stands in the original picture, and not as it appears in the plate from it by Martin Droeshout.
author's likeness was exposed to, may have been numerous, it is still in good preservation.
But, as further particulars may be wished for, it should be subjoined, that in the Catalogue of "The fourth Exhibition and Sale by private Contract at the European Museum, King-Street, St. James's Square, 1792," this picture was announced to the publick in the following words:
"No. 359. A curious portrait of Shakspeare, painted in 1597."
On the 31st of May, 1792, Mr. Felton bought it for five guineas; and afterwards urging some inquiry concerning the place it came from, Mr. Wilson, the conductor of the Museum already mentioned, wrote to him as follows:
"To Mr. S. Felton, Drayton, Shropshire.
"The Head of Shakespeare was purchased out of an old house known by the sign of the Boar in Eastcheap, London, where Shakespeare and his friends used to resort,-and report says, was painted by a Player of that time,' but whose name I have not been able to learn.
"I am, Sir, with great regard,
"Your most obedt. servant,
1 The player alluded to was Richard Burbage.
A Gentleman who, for several years past, has collected as many pictures of Shakspeare as he could hear of, (in the hope that he might at last procure a genuine one,) declares that the
August 11, 1794, Mr. Wilson assured Mr. Steevens, that this portrait was found between four and five years ago at a broker's shop in the Minories, by a man of fashion, whose name must be concealed: that it afterwards came (attended by the Eastcheap story, &c.) with a part of that gentleman's collection of paintings, to be sold at the European Museum, and was exhibited there for about three months, during which time it was seen by Lord Leicester and Lord Orford, who both allowed it to be a genuine picture of Shakspeare.-It is natural to suppose that the mutilated state of it prevented either of their Lordships from becoming its purchaser.
How far the report on which Mr. Wilson's narratives (respecting the place where this picture was met with, &c.) were built, can be verified by evidence at present within reach, is quite immaterial, as our great dramatick author's portrait displays indubitable marks of its own authenticity. It is apparently not the work of an amateur, but of an artist by profession; and therefore could hardly have been the production of Burbage, the principal actor of his time, who (though he certainly handled the pencil) must have had insufficient leisure to perfect himself in oil-painting, which was then so little understood and practised by the natives of this kingdom."
Eastcheap legend has accompanied the majority of them, from whatever quarter they were transmitted.
It is therefore high time that picture-dealers should avail themselves of another story, this being completely worn out, and no longer fit for service.
2 Much confidence, perhaps, ought not to be placed in this remark, as a succession of limners now unknown might have pursued their art in England from the time of Hans Holbein to that of Queen Elizabeth.
Yet, by those who allow to possibilities the influence of facts, it may be said that this picture was probably the ornament of a club-room in Eastcheap, round which other resemblances of contemporary poets and players might have been arranged:-that the Boar's Head, the scene of Falstaff's jollity, might also have been the favourite tavern of Shakspeare-that, when our author returned over London Bridge from the Globe theatre, this was a convenient house of entertainment; and that for many years afterwards (as the tradition of the neighbourhood reports) it was understood to have been a place where the wits and wags of a former age were assembled, and their portraits reposited. To such suppositions it may be replied, that Mr. Sloman, who quitted this celebrated publick house in 1767, (when all its furniture, which had devolved to him from his two immediate predecessors, was sold off,) declared his utter ignorance of any picture on the premises, except a coarse daubing of the Gadshill robbery. From hence the following proba
Philip Jones of Barnard's Inn, the auctioneer who sold off Mr. Sloman's effects, has been sought for; but he died a few years ago. Otherwise, as the knights of the hammer are said to preserve the catalogue of every auction, it might have been known whether pictures constituted any part of the Boar's Head furniture; for Mr. Sloman himself could not affirm that there were no small or obscure paintings above stairs in apartments which he had seldom or ever occasion to visit.
Mrs. Brinn, the widow of Mr. Sloman's predecessor, after her husband's decease quitted Eastcheap, took up the trade of a wireworker, and lived in Crooked Lane. She died about ten years ago. One, who had been her apprentice (no youth,) declares she was a very particular woman, was circumstantial in her narratives, and so often repeated them, that he could not possibly forget any article she had communicated relative to the plate, furniture, &c. of the Boar's Head:-that she often spoke of the painting that represented the robbery at Gadshill, but never so much as hinted at any other pictures in the house; and had there
bilities may be suggested:-first, that if Shakspeare's portrait was ever at the Boar's Head, it had been alienated before the fire of London in 1666, when the original house was burnt;-and, secondly, that the path through which the same picture has travelled since, is as little to be determined as the course of a subterraneous stream.
It may also be remarked, that if such a Portrait had existed in Eastcheap during the life of the industrious Vertue, he would most certainly have procured it, instead of having submitted to take his first engraving of our author from a juvenile likeness of James I. and his last from Mr. Keck's unauthenticated purchase out of the dressing-room of a modern actress.
It is obvious, therefore, from the joint depositions of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Sloman, that an inference disadvantageous to the authenticity of the Boar's Head story must be drawn; for if the portrait in question arrived after a silent progress through obscurity, at the shop of a broker who, being ignorant of its value, sold it for a few shillings, it must necessarily have been unattended by any history whatever. And if it was purchased at a sale of goods at the Boar's Head, as neither the master of the house, or his two predecessors, had the least idea of having possessed such a curiosity, no intelligence could be sent abroad with
been any, he is sure she would not have failed to describe them in her accounts of her former business and place of abode, which supplied her with materials for conversation to the very end of a long life.
The four last publicans who kept this tavern are said to have filled the whole period, from the time of Vertue's inquiries, to the year 1788, when the Boar's Head, having been untenanted for five years, was converted into two dwellings for shopkeepers.