Photo credit: Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre
This looks very much like Hamlet and his mother, with the ghost of his father seen at far left.
This discussion is now closed. The scene has been identified as ‘Hamlet’, Act III, Scene 4, by William Shakespeare. It is probably British, early 19th century.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.
The Collection has commented: 'The object files refer to this as a theatrical scene. No other confirmed information is available. A recent conservation survey suggested this may be from the circle of Richard Westall, although this probably doesn't help identify the scene.' Alistair Brown has suggested that it might show Act 3, Scene 4, when the Ghost appears to Hamlet in Gertrude’s closet.
I considered a scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni, but I think this fits Hamlet better.
I would suspect Hamlet – Shakespearean pictures were popular. I now wonder if the production/star could be identified (there are engravings of a number of actors and the costume may help). Is it Kean?
Here is a 1798 print of Hamlet Act III, Scene IV after Richard Westall:
Hamlet: Act 3 Scene 4
A king of shreds and patches,--
Save me, and hover o'er me with your wings,
You heavenly guards! What would your gracious figure?
Alas, he's mad!
Do you not come your tardy son to chide,
That, lapsed in time and passion, lets go by
The important acting of your dread command? O, say!
Do not forget: this visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But, look, amazement on thy mother sits:
O, step between her and her fighting soul:
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works:
Speak to her, Hamlet.
How is it with you, lady?
Alas, how is't with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy
And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;
And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm,
Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
Starts up, and stands on end. O gentle son,
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?
On him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares!
His form and cause conjoin'd, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable. Do not look upon me;
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects: then what I have to do
Will want true colour; tears perchance for blood.
To whom do you speak this?
Do you see nothing there?
Nothing at all; yet all that is I see.
Nor did you nothing hear?
No, nothing but ourselves.
Why, look you there! look, how it steals away!
My father, in his habit as he lived!
Look, where he goes, even now, out at the portal!
I am reasonably certain the picture is of that scene from Hamlet. It is probably latter 18th to early 19th century, in my opinion.
I am sure it is Hamlet III.iv, but can we get any further on artist and actors - though it might be imaginary. It's also hard to tell whether the background is a 'stock' castle back-scene -which the rather odd perspective might imply - or just an imaginary castle interior poorly drawn. Presumably British, but not necessarily of course.
My sense is that this is by a poor artist working in the first quarter of the 19th century. And that it will be difficult to take the matter further unless a linked picture or some sort of document emerges which seems unlikely.
How did such a picture end up at the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre, an unlikely home?
Yes, it would be of interest to learn what the collection knows about this picture in terms of acquisition and provenance.
Would someone at the Garrick Club be able to help?
The collection's venue opened in 1991. This picture must have come from a local donor, I would think, but it still seems out of place. Another picture in the collection might conceivably be a Juliet on the balcony, but that is less certain than this picture being from Hamlet:
Here is the only other 19th century (or earlier) depiction of this scene I could find on Art UK:
There is no certainty that this is by a British artist. Hamlet was popular in Europe in the early 19th century
Charles Martin [only a teenager] Royal Academy 1836 no 896 painted the Ghost scene - his first painting at the RA
The actor was George Jones
'Look how it steals away! my father in his habit as he lived?'
The paintings by him on artuk.org are decades later
We should look in the British Institution exhibitions
Martin was John Martin's son, but none of his drawings in the NPG and Tate encourage an attribution to him
William Feaver would know about him
A lithograph of the American actor as Hamlet on 4 June 1836 at The Theatre. Royal Drury Lane by Madeley after C Martin made at 3 Wellington Street, Strand and published by Ackerman and Co. 96 Strand [Grosvenor Prints ] 'from a painting in the Royal Academy, 1836'
Almost certainly confirms the identification
The Wellington street premises may be those used much later by Whistler's printer Thomas Way
G E Madeley was at that address 1829-58
George 'Count Joannes' Jones [1810-79] see long article in wikipedia
Patrick Frazer can provide more detail on Madeley if necessary
Madeley made many theatrical prints
The British Museum has an unrecognided lithographic portrait of Jones by Richard James Lane after the Count d'Orsay of November 1844 [ at present thought to be of the painter George Jones]
New York Public Library gives his death date as 1881 and has a cutting of him as Hamlet
This cut-and-paste link produces a larger copy of the Madelely after Martin image of Jones as Hamlet at Drury Lane in 1836, from a copy in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington
Titling reads, verbatim: 'George Jones (the American tragedian) in the character of Hamlet as successfully performed at Drury Lane upon the occasion of his complimentary benefit from the Friends of Literature and the Drama, June 4th, 1836 from a painting in the Royal Academy (1836) by C. Martin ; Madeley lith., 3 Wellington St., Strand'
If the Grimsby painting is of Jones on that occasion or whatever others (probably few) he performed the role in 1836, who played Gertrude and is there an image of her to compare?
A newspaper item about the Hamlet performance by Jones of June 4th, 1836 mentions the actors playing some of the other roles, but not that of Gertrude:
Jones's Hamlet no doubt attracted attention because of the novelty of the first American (albeit English-born) in the role on an English stage, but it was met with some harsh criticism:
"deficient not only in evenness and repose but also in variety and delicacy. Coarsely familiar and brusque...at times absolutely bullying...a violent, rash and eccentric man, not the over-sensitive, meditative and wayward Prince." (from The Court Journal)
What is known of the provenance of this picture?
The performance was advertised as to be Jones' last appearance before he returned to America
It is just possible that will be a playbill in the Victoria and Albert Museum
George Jones is in profile in the print relating to his 1836 performance. That much coincides with the Grimsby painting. But it seems highly speculative to suggest that he may be the subject of the Grimsby painting, if indeed this is what is being implied.
Of course you right, Jacob, about it being speculative. We certainly need to find more early paintings by Martin, and to know more about the Grimsby painting's provenance , if that indeed can be found. It seems very unlikely that we will find a helpful review of the 1836 exhibition.
There may be other candidates as artist for the Grimsby picture still to be found as well. As you have already hinted at the artist is likely to have been a minor painter
Just possibly something helpful will be found in the multiple refences to George Jones
Is it possible that this painting, and hence the artist, is much earlier than the work of the 1830s being discussed? I would suggest that it dates from 1785-90 on the basis of costume evidence, and is very probably British.
Hamlet wears 'Van Dyck' dress, which I associate with 18C Shakespearean stagings more than 19C ones. He is not powdered or obviously artificially wigged, which tends to suggest a late 18C to 19C date.
The 'line' of Gertrude's dress is more diagnostic. The line of fashionable dress influences theatrical costume and attempts at historical reconstruction. She has a natural waistline and a torso corseted in the shape of an inverted cone, a low 'scoop' neckline, and the area above that is filled with diaphanous drapery. Her dress has soft, elbow length sleeves, and she has unpowdered 'big hair.' All these are characteristic of the later 1780s. Compare Gainsborough's 'Lady Sheffield' at Waddesdon, National Trust.
In the 1770s fashionable women's hair is dressed high rather than wide, and is usually powdered. In the 1790s hairstyles become simpler and closer to the head, sometimes with turban-like head coverings. Also in the 1790s, the waistline rises, and remains high until the early 1820s, when it falls to a natural level, but new techniques and styles of corsetry create an 'hourglass' curvilinear torso, with greater emphasis on the bust. Low necklines in this period are horizontal rather than deep. 19th Century changes in the fashionable line in Britain are tracked year by year in C Willett Cunnington's 'English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century' Faber and Faber, 1956.
There is some attempt to recreate Elizabethan historical dress in this work, in the head veil and the standing ruff, but it is limited, in line with the still-developing antiquarianism of the late 18th Century, tracked in Roy Strong's '"And when did you last see your father?" The Victorian Painter and British History,' Thames and Hudson 1975. (The historical scope of this book is wider than its title suggests.) The original publication of this work (not the reprint) ends with useful lists of selected historical subjects shown at the RA by date of exhibition, which are very useful for sourcing comparable images for dating renderings of historical dress. It is worth comparing Gertrude with Richard Westall's rendering of Mary Queen of Scots in 'Mary Queen of Scots taking leave of Sir Andrew Melville on her way to execution' RA 1787, which appears on the Christies website.
So if one is exploring possible exhibition records for this work, it might be worth checking the earlier years of the RA, or even the Society of Artists/Free Society of Artists.
I am sorry I have not posted links to the images to which I refer. A computer update has completely changed my screen layout, and while trying to add a link, I deleted the whole first version of this post, and don't want to risk it again.
That is very helpful
I personally feel this is more likely latter 18th century than 19th. If the Hamlet were George Jones, the costume should be closer to his costume in the print linked above, and it is quite different.
Dating - it is very hard to think that this picture is earlier than Fuseli - so mid 1780s perhaps at the earliest, but if is by an amateur it becomes very difficult to be at all specific
However, could it be very much later if the painter is making an imaginative reconstruction and paying no attention to contemporary costume- say very late nineteenth century?
Also, by 1836, the picture should look more "romantic" and softer or less firmly modeled than it does. No doubt the artist is not a front-rank figure, but the quality is not too far from that of some of the pictures made for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, which opened in 1789 and operated during the 1790s, eventually including 167 pictures drawn from Shakespeare (four from Hamlet, though this picture was not one of them; the one by Westall of the same scene is linked above in print form). Fuseli also painted this scene (below):
The rise of 'antiquarianism' on stage - closer attention to 'authentic' period settings and costume - is from the mid 1790s on. It starts with J.P. Kemble's engagement of the antiquarian scene-painter William Capon to produce historically based architectural stock scenery for Drury Lane in 1794 - and the background here has that sort of feel. The more authentic-costume aspect only really gets going from 1823 when the pioneer of dress history (and himself a melodramatist), J.R. Planche was engaged by J.P.'s brother Charles to provide medieval costume designs for Shakespeare's 'King John' at Covent Garden. The trend reached its apogee in Charles Kean's Shakespearean revivals, and other historical productions, at the Princess's Theatre, Oxford Street in the 1840s, when the souvenir programmes were practically works of scholarly reference as to where all the design elements came from (rather spoiled by Mrs Kean as leading lady, who insisted in wearing a crinoline skirt irrespective of period). Both the Grimsby image and that of Jones in 1836 are somewhere on that curve as regards costume, but the former seems 'early' rather than later. We really need a shot at who could have painted it.
I am not making any direct connection, but a picture of this scene was shown by Samuel Drummond at the Royal Academy in 1820 (RA catalogue No. 256).
Richard Dadd and George [the painter] Jones also did it (latter in the Folger Library), but it looks more obscure than those or Drummond.
This is a long shot but what about William Hilton (1786-1839) -- or perhaps after him, possibly via a print? Hilton certainly painted subjects from Shakespeare such as the following, from 'Julius Caesar', said to date from 1834:
An earlier Shakespeare subject was his 'Miranda and Ferdinand bearing a Log' (from 'The Tempest'), at the RA in 1814.
Moreover Hilton was born in Lincoln, where he is celebrated and well represented at the Usher Gallery. Grimsby on the Lincolnshire coast is not so far away and this geographical proximity might help to explain how the picture came to find an apparently unlikely home.
I do not see our work as being by a professional artist of the calibre of those that have been mentioned.
I am sure that you are right, Jacob, which is why I considered an unknown teenager connected to a relative outsider. The figure of Gertrude is probably more rewarding as a starting point for research is she is more distinctive. There may a printed source of costume to which the artist referred. A very thorough search through the Folger Library may throw something up
It was the head covering of the Canadian turn of the century actress Lenore Chippendale Lockwood as Gertrude which made me pause and wonder if this painting was much later. Born 1881 she was the wife of the better known Sidney Mather who was Laertes in John Barrymore's Hamlet as late as 1922. - but I think that this is a false direction
One assumes the picture is unsigned and that there is nothing of potential use on the back of the canvas or frame. Can the collection confirm that?
In my experience, even if there are no obvious markings on the reverse, a photo of the reverse (and the frame) can be revealing and may help date the picture from the type of stretcher or the style of the frame.
Apologies, asking these questions about acquisition and provenance and asking for a photograph slipped from my mind, but the Collection has now been emailed.
a search of the images - mainly prints - in the Folger Shakespearan Library NY will yield many examples illustrating this scene
apologies/ I mistyped
The Folger is of course in DC not NY
The Collection have provided a photograph of the frame. The reverse will come when help can be obtained in the Stores as it is too heavy for one person to turn.
On the acquisition, Louise Bowen has commented, email, 15/07/21
'As with many of the early acquisitions to our collection there is very little information. The low accession number suggests it is an early addition from our collection (the museum service began in the 1940s). Donor unknown. Accession register notes it as Pre-Raphaelite. '
Thanks to the collection for providing a photo of the frame. From this photo, I would date the frame to about the 1810s, or at least within a time bracket of 1800 to 1835. This dating fits with my sense of the likely date for the picture itself.
The frame appears to have been made for the picture. It is possibly but not certainly British.
Looks rather nice in the frame-and I can see Hamlet's ghost kneeling etherially (Big Smiley face) .And to me the Accesion notes -Pre -Raphaelite is on the money.
More like pre-Pre-Raphaelite, Louis. This is not their sort of picture.
Yes Jacinto-I did follow the discussion-and the conclusion that it was probably 1830's,which seemed very probable- but when i saw it in the frame,I just thought 1880's.ish.
I think the initial question has been answered; this is Hamlet, Gertrude and the Ghost (Act III, scene iv). The date is probably late 18th to early 19th century, and this is probably British School, though it may be best to leave it as unknown artist. I tend to doubt we will get much further than we have.
I'm with Jacob in thinking this is likely to be early 19th century and, now we can see the quality of the painting better despite the glass reflections not by an 'amateur'. Whether you like it or not its a work of skilled finish but I can't think of a British artist who might have done it and wonder if its continental (?German).
No issue about subject: certainly Hamlet III.iv.
Then I think changing the title to reflect the subject, going with ca. early 19th century and unknown artist should should suffice. Now we need a Group Leader to make a recommendation to the collection.
Theodor von Holst was into Hamlet see drawing in the British Museum
possibly by an artist in his circle?
That's the same subject Martin but very different:
indeed - but we should be looking for an artist with similar interests
Richard Dadd exhibited this subject, but it is clearly not by him
There is general agreement with Jacinto's original suggestion that this depicts Hamlet Act III, Scene IV. A date of the first quarter of the 19th century is appropriate but it seems to me unlikely that artist will be identified, although probably, but not necessarily, British. It is not very high quality or distinctive in style. I suggest we close this discussion.
I agree with Andrew's suggestion.