Shakespeare's King Lear, early proof

Shakespeare's plays have engaged audiences for centuries, and his theatrical subject matter has influenced the visual arts as well. In the 1790s, London publishers John and Josiah Boydell opened the "Shakspeare Gallery" filled with paintings commissioned
to depict scenes from the plays. One hundred of these images were engraved as large prints and proved to be so popular that several editions were published, including an American edition in the 1840s.
King Lear, showing Lear in the storm from Act III, Scene iv, was engraved in 1793 by William Sharp (1749–1824) after the painting by Benjamin West (1738–1820). This dramatic scene was considered a powerful moral lesson representing energy of thought and action. The painting came to the United States in 1807, part of the collection of engineer Robert Fulton (1765–1815). It was exhibited in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York and is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Many collectors considered Sharp's engraving of King Lear the finest of the prints in Boydells' Shakspeare Gallery series. Vermont Congressman George Perkins Marsh and President Thomas Jefferson owned prints from the Shakspeare Gallery. This impression from the original English edition came to the Museum in 1979 as a bequest from the family of American artist Stephen Alonzo Schoff (1818–1904), a bank-note engraver who also produced prints in larger formats. Schoff studied art in Europe between 1839 and 1841, and he acquired a significant collection of European and American prints to serve as his working visual library. He owned this preliminary etched proof prepared in an acid bath and a final state of the print finished by hand with the burin, an engraver's cutting tool.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
Shakespeare, William
Boydell, John
Boydell, Josiah
original artist
West, Benjamin
Sharp, William
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
sheet: 45.75 cm x 58.8 cm; 18 in x 23 1/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Popular Entertainment
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Graphic Arts
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Leonard Hastings Schoff bequest

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