This is a proof before title, with the coat of arms of Sir Robert Walpole and the publication information lightly sketched in. In the finished version, the publication information is darker, and the title, location and dimensions of the painting are added.
At the time this engraving was made, this painting hung in the Gallery at Houghton Hall, the country house of the Walpole family in Norfolk, England, as part of the art collection amassed by Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745). Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, possessed an excellent eye for art; however he lived beyond his means and left behind massive debts when he died. By the 1770s, these debts had grown to the point that his son, the literary figure Horace Walpole (1717-1797), had no choice but to sell the art collection. He made a valiant but unsuccessful effort to persuade the British government to purchase the artworks for the planned National Gallery. When that failed, he sold 181 paintings to Catherine the Great of Russia in 1779, who installed them in the Hermitage, where many remain today. Among these paintings were masterworks by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, Reni and Giordano. Today Houghton Hall is owned by the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, a descendant of Sir Robert Walpole’s daughter, Mary, and is open for public tours as a historic house and garden during the spring and summer months.
Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist and diplomat. An educated man from Antwerp, he was employed by the rulers of the southern Netherlands as their ambassador. This gave him access to the courts of Europe, who became his patrons. He was the most versatile and influential Baroque artist of northern Europe in the 17th century, and there was a huge demand for his paintings, altarpieces and tapestry designs. Rubens is notable for his vivid, sensual style, which brought to life the allegorical and narrative themes at which he excelled.
William Walker was a British engraver. Born in Yorkshire, he was apprenticed to a dyer and later was taught engraving by his brother Anthony (1726-65), an historical and architectural engraver in London. Walker produced many book illustrations including topographical works by Paul Sandby and John Throsby and plates for Harrison’s classics. He also engraved illustrations and separately issued prints for the publisher John Boydell. Walker’s son John, a landscape engraver and printseller, finished many of William’s plates after his death in 1793.
John Boydell was a successful and influential printseller and engraver. Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery is credited with changing the course of English painting by creating a market for historical and literary works. He also encouraged the development of art of engraving in England with, among other things, his prints illustrating scenes from Shakespearean plays. By the late 1760s, he was a successful entrepreneur in publishing and retailing prints, also including views, in England and across the continent. In 1773, his nephew Josiah Boydell (1752-1817) became his business partner and later his successor, trading as John & Josiah Boydell, or J. & J. Boydell, at No. 90 Cheapside, London. John Boydell became Lord Mayor of London in 1790.
Inscription lower margin: Publish’d June 1st, 1782, by John Boydell, Engraver, in Cheapside London. Rubens, Pinxit. Will’m Walker, Sculpsit. John Boydell, excudit, 1782.
Julius, Muriel. “Houghton and the lost treasures – Houghton Hall’s collection of paintings.” Contemporary Review. April 1997. Online at FindArticles.com. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2242/is_n1575_v270/ai_19507292/ (16 June 2010).
Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonb.html (Boydell) and http://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-w-z.html (Walker).
“Peter Paul Rubens.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/07/0743/T074324.asp (3 October 2002).
Rusche, Harry. “Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.” Emory University. 1998. http://www.english.emory.edu/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Boydell.html (17 August 2010).