The Panorama

  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood


In the late 1780s, printselling magnate John Boydell launched his Shakespeare Gallery project as a commercially viable forum for British history painting. By employing native painters such as Reynolds, Opie, and Northcote to illustrate scenes from the plays of the national bard, Boydell hoped to engineer a renaissance in British art. He commissioned a suitably august, neo-classical home for the proposed collection of nationalist painting: a “mock-public building” complete with Grecian columns and decorative statuary.1 The true engine-room of Boydell’s operation, the printshop, was discretely sequestered next door. The iconography of the Shakespeare Gallery’s façade was a far cry from the gaudy monoliths of the Egyptian Hall that Leigh Hunt would later find so “uncouth.” Unlike Bullock’s downmarket museum, the marble entablature of the Gallery advertised a commitment to highbrow neo-classical academic principles: it depicted Shakespeare himself, reclining languidly on a rock (in Georgian breeches), receiving the attentions of the Muses of poetry and painting. These attendant figures marked the Gallery’s consecration of poetry and painting as “sister arts.”


Royal Academy Panoramic View Visual Culture Visual Imagination Romantic Poet 
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© Gillen D’Arcy Wood 2001

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  • Gillen D’Arcy Wood

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