David Garrick as Richard III

William Hogarth, 1745 about

WAG 634

About this object

David Garrick (1717 - 1779) was the greatest British actor of the mid 18th century. He became famous from 1743 after his outstanding performance as Shakespeare's Richard III. He is shown here in the famous tent scene before the Battle of Bosworth, haunted by the ghosts of all those he had murdered.

Garrick's body is contorted into a 'serpentine' line - a stretched 'S' shape that Hogarth considered distinctly beautiful. He later made this shape the basis of his theoretical treatise 'The Analysis of Beauty' published in 1753.

This first major Shakespearian picture is not just a portrait but also a grand history painting in which Hogarth emphasises England's importance. He believed that an incident from English rather than ancient history could be used to teach a moral lesson.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    William Hogarth (British: English, born:1697-11-10, died:1764-10-26)
  • Date
    1745 about
  • Materials
    Oil paint; Canvas
  • Measurements
    canvas/support: 190.5 cm x 250.8 cm
  • Physical description
    David Garrick (born in 1717, died in 1779) was the greatest British actor of the mid 18th century. He became famous from 1743 after his outstanding performance as Shakespeare's Richard III. He is shown here in the tent scene before the Battle of Bosworth, haunted by the ghosts of all those he had murdered. This is not just a portrait but also a grand history painting in which Hogarth emphasises England's importance. The artist believed that the great works of English literature could be used to teach a moral lesson in the same way that other painters used scenes from ancient history. In the painting Garrick's body is contorted into a 'serpentine' line - a stretched 'S' shape that Hogarth considered distinctly beautiful. He later made this shape the basis of his theoretical treatise 'The Analysis of Beauty' published in 1753. Garrick was involved in one of several prominent trials connected to homosexuality in the 1770s. The debates that emerged in the popular press help to illuminate the social attitudes towards homosexuality at that time. In 1772 Captain Robert Jones, a Lieutenant in the artillery corps of the army best known for popularising figure skating, was convicted at the Old Bailey for ‘sodomising’ a thirteen-year-old boy. The public outcry kick-started the first known public debate on homosexuality. David Garrick found himself implicated in the debate after being portrayed as the dramatist Isaac Bickerstaffe’s lover in William Kenrick’s satire ‘Love in the Suds’ (1772). The rumour emerged because Garrick and Bickerstaffe had been close friends, until the latter was publicly ‘outed’ after an indiscreet sexual liason with a soldier. Fearing the impact that such a reputation would have on his career, Garrick sued Kenrick for libel. Kenrick was eventually forced to publicly apologise to Garrick but the legal battle and therefore the press coverage continued for many years. According to historian Rictor Norton, the attitudes expressed in the newspapers to both cases ranged from ‘simple stereotypical homophobia (hell-fire rant against execrable sinners), to more complex attitudes which included a defence of homosexuality on the grounds that it was a natural trait’.* * Rictor Norton, ‘The First Public Debate about Homosexuality in England: The Case of Captain Jones, 1772’, in ‘ The Gay Subculture in Georgian England’, 19 December 2004, updated 10 May 2014. Available online at: http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/jones1.htm
  • Related people
    Agnew's Gallery (Previous owner) ; Duncombe (Previous owner) ; Charles Duncombe 3rd Earl of Faversham (Previous owner) ; William Hogarth (Artist/maker)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 634
  • Credit line
    Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery with the assistance of the Art Fund in 1956
  • Location
    Walker Art Gallery, Room 05
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections

Ownership

Previous owners

  • Agnew's Gallery

    Owned from: 1955
    How acquired: Purchased from 3rd Earl of Feversham
    Owned until: 1956
    Disposal method: Sold to the Walker Art Gallery
  • Charles Duncombe 3rd Earl of Faversham

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: By descent from Mr Duncombe
    Owned until: 1955
    Disposal method: Sold to Agnew's Gallery
  • Duncombe

    Owned from: 1810
    How acquired: Purchased from William Hogarth
    Owned until: ?-
    Disposal method: By descent to Charles Duncombe 3rd Earl of Faversham
Object view = Fine Art
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