OPIE, After John (1761-1807)
Shakespeare. Second Part of King Henry the Sixth. Act I, Scene IV. Mother Jourdain, Hume, Southwell, Bolingbroke & Eleanor
London: John & Josiah Boydell, 1 December 1796. Stipple engraving, by C.G. Playter, finished by R. Thew. Image size (including text): 17 1/2 x 23 1/4 inches. Sheet size: 20 7/8 x 28 3/4 inches.
A very fine copy of one of the greatest images from Boydell's magnum opus, illustrating the works of England's greatest dramatist.
"This is Shakespeare on a grand scale, the Shakespeare of titanic emotion, of compelling gesture and vivid gaze... the greatest of the engravings... are by any standard powerful works with an inescapable emotional force behind them. They speak directly to us." (A.E.Santaniello. The Boydell Shakespeare Prints New York, 1979). Opie, a Cornish-born painter of great natural talent, was first brought to wide public attention by William Walcot ('Peter Pindar') and worked for a while in partnership with him. However, by the time the original for the present work was painted he was established in his own right and 'he was largely employed in painting pictures for the important illustrated works of the day. For Boydell's Shakespeare (1786-9) he painted Arthur supplicating Hubert, Juliet on her Bed surrounded by the Capulets, Antigonus sworn to destroy Perdita' (DNB), and this famous scene from Henry the Sixth, part Two, "The Conjuration". 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).
Cf. Santaniello, The Boydell Shakespeare Prints; Dictionary of National Biography.