September 23, 2007

The Bard's Self-Appointed Flack

"Marketing Shakespeare: The Boydell Gallery (1789-1805) and Beyond," curated by Ann Hawkins and Georgianna Ziegler. The Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC. Through Jan. 5, 2008.

In the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott reports: "Boydell opened his gallery, a 4,000-square-foot space in a very good neighborhood, as part of concerted campaign to promote Shakespeare, commission art and generally elevate English taste. He persuaded prominent artists who are famous still -- Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West, George Romney and Henry Fuseli, among them -- to participate. He spent heavily on mediocrities, too. The gallery opened with 34 canvases. By the time it went belly up in 1805 -- after Boydell had invested a fortune, more than 100,000 pounds -- there were 167 paintings, and at least one for each play. The fascinating thing about the current show is how awful most of them are. Boydell was trying to instill the values of history painting, with its strong geometrical form, its condensation of energy and importance in towering figures set against epic backdrops. But often his artists produced small domestic dramas, willowy young men courting pale women in flouncy dresses, surrounded by the markers of domesticity one might expect in a Dutch scene of daily life." Read more.