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:
Thomas Burke was a highly respected engraver, mainly after contemporary painters such as Angelica Kauffman and Henry Fuseli. Born in Dublin, he studied with the mezzotint engraver Dixon.
James Caldwall was an etcher, engraver and draftsman born in London. He is primarily known for his portrait engravings, prints after the Old Masters, and some of the plates for Cook’s Voyages, John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery and Thomas Sheraton’s Cabinet Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book. He showed engravings with the Society of Artists and from 1770 to 1780 exhibited with the Free Society.
Joseph Collyer was an engraver in a delicate, finished manner. Born in London he was apprenticed to Anthony Walker. He was awarded a premium by the Society of Arts at the age of 13 and was admitted to the Royal Academy ten years later, though he soon struck out on his own, producing mainly book illustrations. His engravings of some of the portraits in the Royal Academy collection attracted the attention of Sir Joshua Reynolds, after which he engraved some of Reynolds’ works. He also made engravings after other master painters. Collyer was elected associate engraver of the Royal Academy in 1786 and was appointed portrait engraver to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III.
George Sigmund Facius and John Gottleib Facius were etchers and engravers based in England. The brothers were born in the Bavarian city of Ratisbon. Their father was the Russian consul at Brussels, where they both studied engraving. In 1766, John Boydell offered them employment in London, and they produced mainly etched plates for him, including a set after Joshua Reynolds.
Henry Fuseli was born in Zurich but spent most of his career in England. His treatment of the grotesque, the sublime and fantastic subjects was admired by his contemporaries, and later by the 20th century Surrealists, who saw him as a predecessor for their own explorations of dream imagery and psychological states. The London theatre, particularly Shakespeare, inspired dozens of Fuseli’s paintings, drawings and prints. He contributed nine paintings in the 1780s to Boydell’s Shakespeare and painted more for a Dublin dealer.
Thomas Gaugain, was born in France, but attended the Royal Academy in London and pursued an artistic career in England. He began by publishing engravings of his own paintings but gradually built up a successful business buying pictures and drawings by artists such as George Morland to engrave as decorative stipple engravings and sell to the export market.
Gavin Hamilton was a Scottish painter, archaeologist, and antiquary. He went to Rome as a young man, spent some time in London around 1752, and in 1755 served on the Artists’ Committee appointed to establish the Royal Academy. He soon after returned to Rome, although he periodically exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1770 and 1788. He produced history paintings, portraits and classical subjects, including an Apollo presented to the city of London by John Boydell. In Rome he excavated for antiquities, beginning the dig at Hadrian’s Villa around 1769; some of the sculptures he found are now in the British Museum. He also published a book of 40 prints after the Italian masters, Schola Italica Picturae. He returned to England in 1783 to take possession of the family estate, although he seems to have spent the latter part of his life in Rome.
William Hamilton was a history and portrait painter, born in Chelsea in 1751. He entered the Royal Academy in 1769. Hamilton designed plates for John Boydell’s Shakespeare,Macklin’s Bible, Thomson’s Seasons and numerous books. A popular painter of his era, many of his paintings were engraved and he received commissions for decorative work. Hamilton exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1774, where he was elected associate in 1784 and became an academician in 1789.
Angelica Kauffman was a child prodigy who was trained by her father, also a painter. From the age of 16 she traveled through Austria and Italy, assisting him with religious commissions as well as painting portraits for her own patrons. After arriving in London in 1766, she became known for her historical paintings of both ancient and modern history, the most prestigious type of painting during the 18th century. Kauffman achieved extraordinary recognition for a female artist of her day, and was one of only two female founding members of the British Royal Academy. She spent the latter part of her life in Italy.
Francis Legat was an engraver born in Scotland, where he studied in Edinburgh under Alexander Runciman. He came to London as a teenager in 1780, and worked for publishers, especially John Boydell. Toward 1800 he was appointed engraver to the Prince of Wales.
William Satchwell Leney engraved in line and stipple manner for London publishers from 1791 on, including for Boydell’s Shakspeare. He emigrated to America around 1806 where he engraved portraits and banknotes.
William Miller was a history and portrait painter as well as painting classical subjects. He worked on John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery, and many of his other history and genre works were also engraved. Miller exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1790 to 1803.
The Reverend Matthew William Peters was an accomplished portrait and history painter in addition to his religious vocation. He studied art at the Academy of Design in Dublin. He gained a premium from the Society of Arts in 1759. He was elected to the Royal Academy as an associate in 1771 and became an academician in 1777. Peters rendered scenes from The Merry Wives of Windsor and Much Ado About Nothing for John Boydell’s Shakespeare. He also painted a full-length portrait of George IV. His works were turned into prints by prominent engravers such as Francisco Bartolozzi. Peters studied for the ministry at Exeter College, Oxford, but continued to paint after completing his degree. He first exhibited under the title “The Reverend” in 1783. For unknown reasons he resigned from the Royal Academy in 1790 and produced few paintings thereafter. One of his ecclesiastical posts was as chaplain to the Prince Regent.
George Romney was one of the three most popular 18th century society portrait painters, along with Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. He arrived in London in 1762 and gained premiums at the Society of the Arts that year and in 1764. He was admitted to the schools of the Society of Artists in 1769, and exhibited with them in the 1770s, as well as with the Free Society. Between 1773 and 1775 he traveled abroad, then returned to London and established a highly successful career as a portraitist. John Boydell recruited him to work on the Shakespeare Gallery in 1786.
Thomas Ryder was a London engraver, active from 1766 to 1802. A pupil of Isaac Basire, he was one of the earliest students at the Royal Academy and exhibited at the Free Society. He became one of the leading engravers of his time in the stipple style, engraving works after important English painters including Angelica Kauffman. The eight plates that Ryder engraved for John Boydell’s Shakspeare are considered among his best works. His son, also named Thomas Ryder, was also an engraver.
Luigi Schiavonetti was an Italian-born engraver. He came to London in 1790, where he impressed the great stipple engraver Francisco Bartolozzi who took him on as an assistant. He produced a series on the French Revolution, works after Old Master painters, and illustrated several publications including plates after Blake to Blair’s poem The Grave (1808).
Edward Scriven was a British engraver, who studied with the prominent printmaker Robert Thew for several years. He then came to London, where he worked on major projects for the Dilettanti Society, John Boydell’s Shakespeare and Fine Arts of the English School. He also engraved a series of portraits by Sir Peter Lely and others. Scriven held the appointment of engraver to the Prince of Wales, and also founded and served as secretary of the Artists’ Fund.
Thomas Stothard was a popular, prolific and successful English painter and book illustrator, highly regarded by such contemporaries as Thomas Lawrence and Walter Scott. Stothard studied at the Royal Academy. From the beginning of his career, book illustration was his main area of activity. Together with his friends and near contemporaries, William Blake and John Flaxman, Stothard developed an austere, linear style of draughtsmanship, although his illustrations tended more toward realism.
Isaac Taylor (II) was a London engraver, who first worked in the studio of his father, an engraver and bookseller of the same name. There he worked on plates for Rees’s Cyclopaedia and engraved a set of prints after works he had commissioned from Richard Smirke (1781). He exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1777 to 1790. Taylor painted and engraved a set views near the Thames River, worked on John Boydell’s Shakspeare and illustrated other publications. He also produced a series of instructional books for children. Taylor moved to Colchester as a nonconformist minister in 1796 and moved to Ongar in1810.
Robert Thew was a British printmaker and engraver who rose from humble beginnings as the son of an innkeeper to become engraver to the Prince of Wales. Although not academically trained, he became skilled in the dot manner of engraving and in 1783 set up a shop in Hull, producing shop advertisement bills and cards. A plate after Gerard Dow caught the eye of the prominent publisher and printseller John Boydell, who employed him. Thew engraved at least 19 of the large plates for Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.
Richard Westall belonged to an English family of painters and illustrators. He became a student at the Royal Academy Schools in 1785, and a full academician in 1794. He exhibited over 300 works there and 70 at the British Institution. Westall was one of the early watercolorists, and gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria when she was a child. However, he is mainly remembered for his book illustrations for publishers such as John Boydell, Thomas Macklin and Robert Bowyer.
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.” Exeter Working Papers in Book History. 2001. https://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-b.html, https://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-l.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