Nature unveiling herself to the Infant Shakespeare

WAG 4043


One of a group of 18 known as the ‘Liverpool Cartoons’, this drawing shows the playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) as a baby, surrounded by the figures of Nature, Joy and Sorrow. Romney produced many sketches and drawings of real and imagined scenes from Shakespeare's plays and life. He was drawn especially to moments of intense emotion or the supernatural. Romney subscribed to the 18th century idea of Shakespeare's genius having been formed by nature rather than nurture, in line with other artists of his day, who also drew or painted Shakespeare's infancy: Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Richard Westall (1765-1836) and others. ‘Cartoon’ here refers to the word in its old sense of a preparatory, full-size drawing for a later, finished painting. They are constructed of several pieces of handmade paper pieced together to create a large surface on which to work. The 18 cartoons in the Walker’s collection are the only ones surviving of groups of drawings Romney made exploring scenes from literature and mythology. It is likely that Romney explored the cartoon form over a period of ten years, if not longer, from about 1775. Romney’s son John (1757-1832) wrote to William Roscoe (1753-1831) that the cartoons ‘were executed in the winter evenings by candlelight as a relaxation when Mr. Romney’s mind had been jaded by portrait painting during the day’.