Saturday, February 26, 2011

Richard III in Art

I think the reason that Richard III has inspired so many drawings and paintings is that the play is *so* dramatic. Dramatic even for Shakespeare, which is saying something, right? I wanted to post a few visual art pieces about Richard that I thought were particularly interesting (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons). Feel free to click to see larger versions.

The Guardian ran an article about this first painting a few years ago: "[The actor] David Garrick transfixed London in 1741 when he played Shakespeare's Richard III as a human being instead of a stagy monster. No one had seen acting like it..." Look at that extended hand - there's some commitment in movement! I think we can assume this is the scene in Act 5, Scene 5 when Richard dreams about being visited by the ghosts of all of his victims.
David Garrick as Richard III, by William Hogarth, approx. 1745
"Is there a murderer here?"

This next is a depiction of the same scene, but by William Blake. Since it's Blake, we get all the ghosts...
I like the action and balanced space in this one. And the candles shining through the ghosts on the left.
Richard III and the Ghosts, by William Blake, 1806
"Methought the souls of all that I had murdered came to my tent..."

Here's a picture of one of Richard's villainous deeds, the arrest of Hastings. There's something about the blunt illustration art style that I think is wonderful. The guys look sort of like they came straight out of Prince Valiant.

Richard Orders the Arrest of Hastings, from 'A Chronicle of England'
By James William Edmund Doyle, 1864

An illustration of Richard defiant, as the battle is lost. Nice battlescape. Look at the horse running away in the background!
The Horseshoe Nail, by James Baldwin 1912
"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

I think this next wins the prize for the mildest portrayal of Richard III - it is really only notable because Jane Austen's sister drew it as an illustration for Jane's early comic History of England. Judging by the History, Austen was a good candidate for the Richard III Society: "The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man."
Richard III [as a Very Respectable Man], by Cassandra Austen, 1791.

A very famous one of Richard's poor little nephews, the Princes in the Tower. A subject and style very much of the Victorian era, and quite a good painting, I think.
The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483
by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878

I wanted to finish up with this production poster, which I really like. This is one that you need to click on and see the big version to appreciate. It's got the whole story laid out for you, rather like a comic book or a movie trailer. I'm ready to go see the play!
Thomas Keane in Richard III, 1884


  1. I love Blake's painting of the dream scene - his Richard looks more like a machine than a human. I see that he picked up on this line: "The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight." CREEeeeEPy...

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