The Shakespeare Gallery

It is the first time for a long time (eleven years at least) that I have been to the Royal Academy’s annual dinner as a guest rather than (part-) host.

Greg Doran, the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, gave a beautifully delivered and unusually historical speech on the nature of the relationship between the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768 and its Schools in January the following year, and the eighteenth-century cult of Shakespeare, inaugurated in 1769 by David Garrick, who knew Reynolds through their fellow membership of The Club (Garrick would have been one of the founder members, but was regarded as too self important). Both Academy and the Shakespeare cult shared a belief in the importance of history and the grand tradition, as well as what Doran described as the liberty of modern interpretation (what he called ‘the nowness of now’).

In November 1786, Alderman Boydell established the Shakespeare Gallery which celebrated Shakespeare’s work by commissioning pictures based on his plays and Doran looks out on one of its surviving works, the sculpture of Shakespeare seated between the Dramatic Muse and the Genius of Painting by Thomas Banks. It moved to Stratford in 1871.

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