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David Garrick as Richard III

William HogarthAbout 1745

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

A portrait of the great 18th-century actor David Garrick in one of his most famous roles: Shakespeare’s Richard III. In this painting the King is depicted in his tent on Bosworth field the night before the battle. He suddenly starts up from bad dreams: “the lights burn blue! Is it not dead midnight? Cold fearful drops hang upon my trembling flesh ...” A sinister note lies crumpled beneath his helmet. It says that the King has been betrayed by elements of his army, and is doomed. Hogarth was a close friend of Garrick and probably undertook this portrait as a publicity venture. It is significant both as the first great British theatrical portrait, and because of its appearance as a history painting. The viewer is encouraged to think that the actual historical event is happening, rather than a performance on stage.

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Details

  • Title: David Garrick as Richard III
  • Creator: William Hogarth
  • Date Created: About 1745
  • tag / style: William Hogarth; David Garrick; Richard III; theatre; Shakespeare; Battle of Bosworth Field; tent; drama; tassles; actor; portrait; history painting
  • subject: Bosworth Field
  • Physical Dimensions: w2508 x h1905 cm (without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: William Hogarth trained initially as a silver engraver but from the 1720s developed into England’s most important portrait painter. He is perhaps best known for his works in series of six and eight, which he described as ‘modern moral subjects’. His pictures became well-known to a wide European audience through the engravings made after them. A controversial and rather combative individual, Hogarth had strong views on the inferiority of foreign government and foreign taste and he conceived for himself a mission to improve the teaching of British artists, to establish a clear theoretical groundwork for art and to improve exhibiting opportunities.
  • Additional artwork information: David Garrick (1717-1779) was the greatest English actor of the 18th century and dominated the London stage for over four decades. His earliest major success was in November 1741 when he played Shakespeare’s Richard III at Goodman’s Fields playhouse. The aged Alexander Pope was so impressed by his performance that he went three times to see him. Audiences seemed to have warmed to Garrick’s novel naturalistic style of acting that was in marked contrast to the more common declamatory mode still employed by his older contemporaries like Colly Cibber. Garrick became a major patron of the fine arts and his portrait was painted by almost every important British artist active during his lifetime. His friendship with Hogarth is usually dated from about 1744. This is one of Hogarth’s most important paintings, created when he was at the peak of his career. It was the biggest easel painting that Hogarth undertook and it unites many of his interests. Not least of its claims to fame is that it was the first major Shakespearean picture ever painted. Hogarth believed that British authors like Swift, Milton and Shakespeare were comparable with ancient writers like Ovid or Virgil. He argued that British artists wishing to paint “History paintings” of exemplary subjects should not ignore what he regarded as the best of English literature. In putting forward Milton as a potential source of subjects Hogarth was broadly in line with learned public opinion of the time, but in his advocacy of Shakespeare he was ahead of taste. Although Shakespeare’s plays had never ceased to be performed, they were still viewed as rather rough, unpolished and lacking in the sophistication or elegance of classical plays by ancient authors or by more recent English or Continental traditional dramatists.To learn more visit our ‘Portrait detectives’ pages: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/nof/portraits/access/explore2_intro.html
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund in 1956

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