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Robert Smirke RA (1753-1845) - Scene from Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor
  • Robert Smirke RA (1753-1845) - Scene from Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor

    Smirke was particularly interested in depicting famous English literature into his art. Shakespeare was an obvious choice and his popularity was rising with the launch of Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery in 1789. Smirke was commissioned to produce twenty six paintings for this endeavour and intriguingly one was for the Merry Wives of Windsor Act IV Scene I which is the same scene as this work.


    Although our work differs to the original Boydell Gallery painting, a remarkably similar picture is owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company Collection, Stratford-Upon-Avon that was donated in 1901 (scroll through photographs to view). Our work is clearly a preparatory drawing for this painting with Smirke altering the characters slightly for the finished piece. For example, our drawing depicts a lady in the painting hung on the wall whilst the finished work has a gentleman. Also there is a bird cage in with an open window in our work, whereas the completed picture does not have a cage and the windows are shut. This pen and ink drawing sheds an interesting light into the draughtsmanship of Smirke.


    The work according to an inscription under the mount depicts 'Ms Page, (Ms) Quickly, William & Sir Hugh Evans questioning him "in his residence". Merry Wives Act IV. Sc.1.' The figure to the right is Sir Hugh and from the left Mistress Quickly, William and then Mrs Page (William's mother). William is practising his Latin grammatical inflections and Mistress Quickly continuously interrupts with absurd comments and remarks deriving from puns on the Latin words that William has been reciting. Smirke has portrayed Mistress Quickly with a comical facial expression which he later toned down for the completed painting!


    Medium: Sepia and watercolour washes with pen and ink on paper. Painted c. 1793.

    9.3 x 12.2 cm, framed.


    Provenance: Trim Bridge Galleries (Bath).

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