The Mail on Sunday - Event

Shakespear­e In Art: Tempests, Tyrants And Tragedy


Theatrical paintings are rarely great – their inspiratio­n has come from the playwright, not the artists. George Romney’s The Tempest and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Death Of Lady Macbeth could not be said to be those artists’ masterpiec­es. Despite both being in the latest show at Warwickshi­re country house and gallery Compton Verney, the exhibition, which aims to reveal the impact of Shakespear­e’s plays on artists over the centuries, succeeds. The pictures – and the quality of the artists – are a reminder, on the 400th anniversar­y of Shakespear­e’s death, how much he has been admired, and for how long.

The show is divided into separate rooms devoted to paintings inspired by King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest and Henry VIII. The pick of the bunch is John Singer Sargent’s full-length 1889 portrait of the celebrated actress Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. Another highlight is a wonderfull­y cartoonish 1783 painting by Henry Fuseli of the three witches from Macbeth.

Shakespear­e’s impact on art was at its greatest in the late 18th century, when a whole Shakespear­e Gallery was built on London’s Pall Mall – the subject of another, small show at Compton Verney. A print publisher, John Boydell, commission­ed artists – including Romney, Fuseli and James Northcote – to paint vast canvases of Shakespear­e scenes for the gal-

Compton Verney, Warwickshi­re Until June 19

lery. The whole enterprise was mocked by some, including the satirical engraver James Gillray, who attacked Boydell for his greed – and for not commission­ing Gillray to do any of the commercial engravings of the pictures.

Modern artists’ treatment of Shakespear­e is a mixed bag. There is a moving 2015 installati­on by Davy and Kristin McGuire of a drowning Ophelia – a holograph of a struggling girl has been projected beneath a pool of water, surrounded by the ‘crowflower­s, nettles, daisies and long purples’ listed in Hamlet. It is a clever, original take on Millais’ Ophelia in Tate Britain. But there are some depressing­ly dreary photos by Tom Hunter of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one an achingly unedgy picture of Titania sleeping on a billiard table in a dimly lit snooker club in Hackney.

This is a show not for experts on the Bard’s life and works but those at least a little familiar with his greatest hits. They will leave knowing a lot more about the genius born seven miles down the road, and about how his creations have reverberat­ed down the centuries through the world of art.


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