This work is a copy of the ‘Chandos’ portrait of Shakespeare (c.1600-10; National Portrait Gallery, London), named after James Brydges, third Duke of Chandos, who owed it from 1783. The Chandos portrait is attributed to painter John Taylor (died 1651) and there are several copies in existence. However, this version has a particular significance. In c.1758, while preparing to sculpt a full-length statue of Shakespeare for actor and playwright David Garrick, Louis François Roubiliac borrowed the Chandos portrait and made this copy from it. It is not the most accomplished copy, as the sculptor was relatively unsuccessful in his attempts to produce work in oil on canvas, made towards the end of his career.
The first librarian of the British Museum, Dr Matthew Maty, knew Roubiliac well and the sculptor gave this portrait to Maty in February 1760. Maty later presented it to the British Museum. The painting is one of 16 works of art which were transferred from the British Museum to the Office of Works (a former Government department, once responsible for the Government Art Collection) in 1946.
Sculptor Louis François Roubiliac was born in Lyons, France; the son of a merchant. As a young man he is thought to have spent time in Dresden, before studying at the Académie Royale in Paris. By 1731 he had moved to London, where he initially worked for sculptors Thomas Carter and Henry Cheere. His reputation was established partly by his statue of George Frideric Handel, commissioned by Jonathan Tyers for his pleasure Gardens at Vauxhall. Throughout the late 1730s and early 1740s Roubiliac worked mainly on portrait statues and busts of writers, artists and other creative figures. By 1750, he was also known for producing monuments. He became an active member of the Society of Artists before his death in London at the age of 59.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) Playwright and Poet
Oil on canvas
height: 61.00 cm, width: 52.00 cm
Purchased from the British Museum, June 1946.
Collection of physician and Principal Librarian (Director) at the British Museum Matthew Maty (1718-1776); by whom presented to British Museum on 1 February 1760; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in 1946
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