How Did Shakespeare Influence Modern Painters Essay

How Did Shakespeare Influence Modern Painters? Essay, Research Paper

Literature is a wide area, in which great names are found. With these names come great stories, and with the stories come great characters, which make us reflect their actions, sometimes even over our lives. Authors might not have the intention to influence other artists at first, but art is universal, and even paintings and plays can be related. One of the greatest names of literature ever, Shakespeare, influenced artists of different areas, one of which is painting. Painters tried to immobilize the scenes of Shakespeare’s plays, expressing in a wonderful form, how far imagination can go. The play itself is indistinguishable from imitations of the works of English dramatist William Shakespeare that abounded in Britain in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

All of the Shakespeare’s plays were painted by many artists, and many of the scenes are famous for being painted more than once by more than one painter. In Macbeth, Act I the scenes when the three witches appear with Banquo on the Heath and even when they appear alone, are listed as painted by more than one painter. One example of the Three Witches being painted shows Banquo, Macbeth, and The Witches meeting. It was painted by John Wooton in 1750, and following his nineteenth century style the “ human subjects are set against a great landscape that predominates the canvas” and in this particular painting the work was done only with interest with the painter’s subject, which was “achieved by the landscape and the lowering sky.” (Emory)

Painters used to immortalize actors and actresses that performed Shakespearean plays and were famous by doing that. Mrs. Pritchard, an actress performed Lady Macbeth and was considered the best Lady Macbeth of her days. She retired in 1768, and passed away few months later. Lohann Zoffany, painted her on stage in 1768, performing the scene in which Macbeth comes back after having murdered the King. It was very difficult for painters to know how to make the faces of the characters so that they are expressing perfectly what Shakespeare wrote, and the most difficult character was Macbeth, since most actors hit him off and created faces. That was all the painters had: the expression of the actors, and Mrs. Pritchard was a sweet woman, very calm, so it was difficult for her to show horror, and the final result, the painting would be the way Mrs. Pritchard made Lady Macbeth be. (Emory)

Another painter who was known by his Shakespearean paintings is the watercolorist Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828). He was known by his “impressive body of paintings” and books were written about him by university professors. Bonington painted various scenes of Henry VIII. John Pettie, another name known by its Shakespearean influence, painted “many periods but he was especially noted for recreated incidents from the English Civil War and the Jacobite Rebellion.” In the painting that one source defines as Romeo and Juliet one incident occurs. An error in “Act IV, scene I, after Paris leaves the Friar and Juliet. Both Romeo and Juliet are with Friar Laurence”, but only Juliet appears in the painting. “ In the 1840’s, artists were for some reason as devoted to the scene in which Friar gives Juliet the potion as they had been in the immediate preceding years to Juliet and the Nurse.” (Emory)

Shakespeare used imagery throughout all his plays (Dean 23) and that was probably a great value tool for painters to paint his plays.

The Art Journal of 1889 said that for a painter ”to paint a picture is usually a dangerous proceeding, so far as a successful result is concerned; still more is it when the subject is not of his own selection.” And William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), a painter, “ not only avoided criticism upon his illustrations, but does not give us a hint as to what scene each aims at illustrating” (Emory)

Paintings are not the same as the Shakespearean Theatre, but they show exactly one of the most important points of view: the audience’s point of view, because each painter was part of the audience and they expresses what they felt and saw. Criticism will always be part of this, and it can’t be avoided. Shakespeare did influence a great numbers of artists, who painted “their versions” of each of the Shakespeare’s plays.


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