WRIGHT of DERBY Joseph engraved by Samuel MIDDIMAN
Shakespeare. Winter's Tale, Act III, Scene III.
New York: Shearjashub Spooner, 1852. Later impression from the original engraved plate by Samuel Middiman. Sheet size: 20 5/8 x 26 inches.
The Boydells' original plates were purchased and restored by Shearjashub Spooner (1809-1859) in 1852, after which he published a two-volume set entitled The American edition of Boydell's Illustrations of the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare, by the Most Eminent Artists of Great Britain. Spooner was a successful New York dentist who produced several other arts publishing projects. Spooner's Boydell Shakespeare edition has rich impressions, many details having been enlivened by the re-engraving of worn areas. Therefore, these are later states of the earlier prints, one indication of Spooner's printings is the plate number to the left of the title area, in this case "36". In 1786, the printseller John Boydell (1719-1804) 'embarked upon the most important enterprise of his life, viz. the publication, by subscription, of a series of prints illustrative of [the works of] Shakespeare, after pictures painted expressly for the work by English artists. For this purpose he gave commissions to all the most celebrated painters of this country for pictures, and built a gallery in Pall Mall for their exhibition. The execution of this project extended over several years. In 1789 the Shakespeare Gallery contained thirty-four pictures, in 1791 sixty-five, in 1802 one hundred and sixty-two, of which eighty-four were of large size. The total number of works executed was 170, three of which were pieces of sculpture, and the artists employed were thirty-three painters and two sculptors, Thomas Banks and the Hon. Mrs. Damer. It appears from the preface to the catalogue of 1789, and from other recorded statements of Boydell, that he wished to do for English painting what he had done for English engraving, to make it respected by foreigners.' (DNB). Joseph Wright of Derby was fascinated with the effects of light, and made a name for himself by producing what came to be known as candlelight pictures. This innovative genre was typified by its intimate figure groups illuminated by candles or lamps. An attorney's son, he trained to be a portrait painter in London before returning to Derby. He was one of the first important English artists to achieve his reputation in the provinces, and his dramatic paintings are some of England's most treasured works. His paintings echo sentiments of the Enlightenment in depicting scenes of scientific experiment, new machinery, or artistic study. Boydell commissioned this dramatic image from Wright for his Shakespeare Gallery and the painting was lovingly engraved by Samuel Middiman. It depicts Antigonus pursued by a bear along the cliffs of a rocky coastline, illustrating the famously brief, "Exit Antigonus, pursued by a Bear".
Santaniello, The Boydell Shakespeare Prints; Dictionary of National Biography.