LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection
Digital Image File Name:
Source Call Number:
Smirke, Robert, 1752-1845, artist.
Lysander declaring his passion to Helena [graphic] / Robert Smirke.
Source Created or Published:
Digital Image Type:
HAMNET CATALOG RECORD:
Smirke, Robert, 1752-1845, artist.
Lysander declaring his passion to Helena [graphic]. Robert Smirke.
Date of Creation or Publ. (Hamnet):
Physical Description (Hamnet):
1 painting on panel : oil, pencil underdrawing and border ; 14.8 x 10.6 cm.
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Midsummer night's dream. Act II. Scene 2 -- Illustrations.
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Characters -- Helena.
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Characters -- Lysander.
1 of series of 12.
Puck, who has been sent by Oberon to anoint the eyes of Demetrius with a love potion that he might return Helena's love for him, mistakes one sleeping Athenian couple for the other, sprinkling Lysander's eyes instead. Smirke depicts the moment when Lysander, awakened by Helena, falls madly in love with her as the first person he sees after having been anointed with the potion. The startled Helena grimaces, thinking he is cruelly teasing her, while Lysander's beloved Hermia continues to sleep in the background. Smirke does little to distinguish between the two maidens, though it is clear from the text that Helena, a "painted maypole," is tall and fair, while Hermia is much shorter and darker in complexion.
Annotated on verso: "Eng. by C. Pye 5/28 1824".
Because of the similarity in concept and execution, the panels were presumably executed at approximately the same time, even though the scenes were not engraved all at once. Smirke may have executed the designed for The Merry Wives of Windsor first, since in these images he employed heavily incised lines, a practice he soon abandoned. In terms of execution, the two scenes from I Henry IV are among the best, and they may well have been among the last executed.
Condition reviewed The panels are of oak with the grain running vertically and vary in thickness from 1/16 to 3/8 inches. Each is painted in grisaille (shades of brown, yellow, and blue-gray with white) over an ivory-colored gesso ground. The panels were presumably bought with the ground already prepared, as several bear a gesso stamp (a circular design 1 inch in diameter with scalloped edges). The panel is chamfered one inch on left reverse and bottom. The clothing of Lysander and Helena has undergone deep shrinkage cracking overall
Conserved 19880000 They were most recently restored in 1988
Engravings: C. Pye, 4 1/8 x 3 1/8 in. (image), published by Hurst, Robinson & Co., Pall Mall, and R. Jennings, Poultry, [London], 1825 (listed on engraving as "Act 2 Sc 3")
Exhibited: Four of the paintings were in the Henry IV exhibition held at Amherst in 1959 as painted by Stothard. Nos. 60 and 61 were in this group, and presumably the other two were nos. 62 and 63, since Falstaff also appears in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Preparatory drawings: Pen and brown ink with brown wash and bodycolor over pencil with gum, 6 1/2 x 4 3/8 in., Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.
The twelve panels at the Folger Shakespeare Library are the only ones known to have survived from a series that originally numbered forty works. Given their small size and monochromatic execution, they were obviously intended from the beginning as designed for engravings, and it is from the engravings that one can reconstruct the entire series. Smirke executed five designed for each of eight plays: The Tempest, Merry Wives of Windsor, Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, I Henry IV, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Romeo and Juliet. The first four plays were published by Rodwell and Martin, Bond Street, London, in 1821 and 1822. Each play also had a title page illustrated with a vignette. Apparently, the remaining illustrations were only published independently of the text. The engravings for the remaining three plays by Hurst, Robinson & Co. and R. Jennings in 1825. This last company published all forty engravings together with a title page that reads Illustrations to Shakespeare by Robert Smirke, R.A. Some of these scenes were reproduced in later editions in engravings of inferior quality.
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Title from Pressly.
Five of the six panels from the second set (nos. 64, 68, 69, 70, 71) are initialed in brown paint at lower right "RS." The initials in each case are clearly a later addition placed on top of the old varnish.
Provenance: Set of six (nos. 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 67), Maggs Bros., Rare Books, Prints and Autographs, 34-35 Conduit St., New Bond St., London, November 1923, £52.10.0, as by Stothard; set of six (nos. 64, 65, 68, 69, 70, 71), Maggs Bros., Rare Books, Prints and Autographs, 34-35 Conduit St., New Bond St., London, November 1924, £52.10.0, as by Smirke.
Pressly, W.L. Paintings in the Folger Shakespeare Library, 64
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