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Shakespeare, Hogarth and Garrick: Plays, Painting and Performance

Shakespeare, Hogarth and Garrick: Plays, Painting and Performance


In London in 1770 Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799) remarked, ‘What a work could be written on Shakespeare, Hogarth and Garrick! There is something similar in the genius of all three.’ Two-and-a-half centuries on, Robin Simon’s highly original and illuminating book takes up the challenge.


William Hogarth (1697–1764) and David Garrick (1717–1779) closely associated themselves with Shakespeare, embodying a relationship between plays, painting and performance that had been understood since Antiquity and which shaped the rules for history painting drawn up by the Académie royale in Paris in the seventeenth century.


History painting was considered the highest form of art: a picture illustrating a moment drawn from just a few lines in a revered text. Hogarth’s David Garrick as Richard III (1745) transformed those ideas because, although it looked like a history painting, it was also a portrait of an actor in performance. With it, Hogarth established the genre of theatrical portraiture, a new and distinctively British kind of history painting.


This book offers a fresh examination of theatrical portraits through close analysis of the pictures and of the texts used in performance. It also examines the central role of the theatre in British culture, while highlighting the significance of Shakespeare, Hogarth and Garrick in the European Enlightenment and the rise of Romanticism. In this context another trio of genius features prominently: Lichtenberg, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Denis Diderot.


Familiar paintings and performances are seen in an entirely new light, while unfamiliar pictures are also introduced, including major paintings and drawings that have never been published.

The final chapter shows that the inter-relationship between plays, painting and performance survived into the age of cinema, revealing the pictorial sources of Laurence Olivier’s legendary film Richard III.

  • Robin Simon

    April 2023

    Hardback, 290 x 245 mm 

    256 pages, 210 colour illus. 

    ISBN: 978-1-913645-44-1

    Published by Paul Holberton Publishing on behalf of Hogarth Arts

  • About the author

    Robin Simon FSA is Editor of The British Art Journal and author of the acclaimed Hogarth, France and British Art: the rise of the arts in eighteenth-century Britain (2007). He is Honorary Professor in the Department of English, University College London, and Professorial Research Fellow in the History of Art at Buckingham University.

  • In the press

    "Handsome and well-illustrated book"–The Literary Review


    "Fascinating ... provides a new understanding of the genre of theatrical painting"–Country Life


    "An abundantly illustrated volume sheds light on the significance of Shakespeare, Hogarth and Garrick." —The New Criterion


    "magisterial study"–Times Literary Supplement


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