A selection of prints from an important series of illustrations of scenes from Shakespeare's plays. They are based on paintings commissioned by John Boydell (1719-1804) from leading British artists for his Shakespeare Gallery, a phenomenally successful project credited with changing the course of English painting by creating a market for historical and literary works. Boydell issued the first set of engravings based on the paintings in 1791, then published a nine-volume folio edition in 1802, and two-volume elephant folios of all the engravings based on the paintings in the gallery in 1803. These prints proved highly influential, "used repeatedly to illustrate the works of Shakespeare, and they appear in all sorts of modified, adapted, and borrowed forms in engravings and drawings that accompany the plays. Producers, directors and critics were all part of that public exposed to the Boydell prints" (Rusche).
When the chaos following the French Revolution reduced the export art market, Boydell went out of business and was forced to sell off the original paintings, though these works continued to be republished after his death. For example, London publisher John Stockdale issued a six-volume set in 1807, The Plays of William Shakespeare, illustrated with plates from Boydell’s Shakespeare.
In 1852, Shearjashub Spooner (1809-1859) restored and published a two-volume set of Boydell’s plates under the title The American edition of Boydell's Illustrations of the dramatic works of Shakespeare, by the most eminent artists of Great Britain. Spooner was a successful dentist in New York who had authored and published dental treatises in the 1830s such as Essay on the Art of Manufacturing Mineral Teeth. In the 1850s, he tackled entrepreneurial arts publishing projects including a two-volume reference work he wrote on artists and architects. He acquired Boydell’s plates and sold his restored version for $100 for 100 plates. The edition has rich impressions and many of the details were enlivened by re-engraving the worn areas. Essentially, these are later states of the earlier prints, with the addition of plate numbers in the title area. The majority of the prints we are offering here are from this American edition.
John Boydell (1719-1804) was a printseller and engraver. Boydell is credited with encouraging the development of engraving in England with, among other things, these illustrations of scenes from Shakespeare. In 1773, his nephew Josiah Boydell (1752-1817) became his business partner and later his successor, trading as J. & J. Boydell.
The artistic personnel involved in Boydell’s Shakespeare project included some of the foremost artists and engravers of late 18th century England. View a list of these artists with brief biographies.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual light toning, wear, soiling, foxing, soft creases, cockling.
“18th and 19th Centuries.” Washington University of St. Louis University Libraries. 24 August 2004. http://library.wustl.edu/units/spec/exhibits/enchant/18th-19th_centuries.html (12 January 2005).
Davidson, Dee. “Re: Shearjashub Spooner b 1809 s/o PAUL.” 17 May 2003. Ancestry.co.uk SpoonerBoard. http://boards.ancestry.com/mbexec/message/5538/surnames.spooner/405 (12 January 2005).
Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” 2001. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonb.html
Rusche, Harry. “Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery.” Department of English, Emory University. 1998. http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Boydell.html
Rusche, Harry. “Henry Fuseli.” Department of English, Emory University. 1998. http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Fuseli.html