Artist Unknown, “Macbeth, Banquo, and the Three Witches”, 1803, Published by John and Josiah Boydell, London

In 1789, the publisher John Boydell opened the Shakespeare Gallery, an exhibition space in London’s Pall Mall showcasing paintings that exclusively represented scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. The Gallery was a bid to revive historical painting in contemporary British art, a genre thought to be of great public benefit because of its morally instructive messages. The works of Shakespeare had become very popular and integral to British identity by the middle of the eighteenth century.

The Gallery opened in May 1789 with an exhibition of thirty-four canvases by eighteen British artists. By 1796 there were eighty-four canvases exhibited, along with dozens of smaller paintings. Once the exhibition was mounted, reproductive engravings of the paintings produced by an in-house team of forty-six printmakers were available to purchase, either as a large portfolio of ninety prints or as a luxurious illustrated edition of the plays.

The above “Macbeth, Banquo, and the Three Witches” was an illustration from a bound 1803 portfolio by Boydell Publishers entitled “A Collection of Prints, from Pictures Painted for the Purpose of Illustrating the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare, by the Artists of Great Britain”.

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