Artist: 18th Century British School. Title: Portrait of an actor, believed to be David Garrick (British 1717-1779). Medium: Oil on Canvas. Marks: unsigned. Size: 62.5 x 75.5cm (24.5 x 29.75in). Frame: Moulded gilt wood (81.5 x 94.5cm (32 x 37.25in) overall frame size).
Considering the age of this painting, and the many other portraits of Garrick available for comparison, we are persuaded that he is the subject of this portrait. We also believe it to be an original study and not a copy of an earlier painting. In our conservator's view, its condition and materials are appropriate to a mid-eighteenth century painting and so it is not unreasonable to suppose that it may have been painted from life.
Condition: This painting had been mistreated and was in poor condition when we received it. There were several holes in the canvas, associated paint losses and fairly severe craqueleure (crazing). Despite this, our conservators have been able to restore it to a high standard. It has been lined and a few areas on infilling and scattered retouching is visible under ultraviolet light, although the majority of this is confined to the background on the left side. There is still quite a lot of visible craqueleure, but in our opinion this should be considered as patina as it demonstrates the age of the painting. Our conservators only intervene where absolutely necessary, to maintain as much of the original painting as possible, and everything they do to the painted surface can be undone if required.
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Subject Biography: David Garrick was one of the most influential figures in the Arts of the 18th Century. Best remembered as an actor, David Garrick was also a playwright, director, producer and theatre-manager. He is accredited with bringing Shakespeare to the public of not only his own time, but also our own; helping to establish the playwright as England’s national poet. Garrick made the reputation of the theatre and its professions respectable; and he developed an acting style we still recognise today. The Lichfield Garrick Theatre and the Garrick Theatre at London’s Charing Cross both honour his name; as does the famous private members’ ’ The Garrick Club’, of Garrick Street, Covent Garden – established for “'actors and men of refinement and education”.
Born in Hereford on 19th February 1717, Garrick was descended from a French Protestant family, his grandfather having emigrated to England following the punitive Edict of Nantes. In his infancy ,the family moved to Lichfield, and Garrick was educated at Lichfield Grammar School. Lichfield Cathedral has a monument dedicated to him, and Lichfield’s King Edward VI School has a School House which takes his name.
At the age of 19, David Garrick enrolled at Samuel Johnson’s Edial Hall School. Here he first showed his flair for the theatre, appearing in a school production of George Farquhar’s ‘The Recruiting Officer’: a role his father had played for real, having been stationed in Gibraltar through most of David’s childhood. Garrick and Samuel Johnson soon became friends, and in 1736 the two arrived in London to seek their positions in the world. Garrick was soon giving much of his time to amateur dramatics, and 1740 saw his first visit to the theatre, to the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, where he was himself to feature in play, production and management in the years which followed. Within the next twelve months, Garrick was appearing in minor roles at Whitechapel’s ‘Goodman’s Fields Theatre’, much frequented by the aristocracy of the day.
With his acting talents becoming more and more recognised and his performances receiving ever greater and wider acclaim, Garrick withdrew from a business partnership with his brother and now became a professional actor. Coached under Charles Macklin, Garrick’s naturalistic acting style broke away from the norm of the day, when performers would bombast upon the stage. Prolific in his first six months as a professional, Garrick had taken on eighteen roles in six months; including Shakespeare’s Richard III and King Lear; as well as a number of comic roles. Come 1742, he was employed for the full year’s season at Drury Lane’s Theatre Royal, whilst under Charles Fleetwood’s management. When Fleetwood’s patent on the theatre ended in 1747 after some years in decline, Garrick took his place in partnership with James Lacy and the Drury Lane theatre soon saw a return to accolades and success.
Within these five years, Garrick twice visited Dublin, where his work was met with high acclaim. Amongst the roles he played here were Shakespeare’s Hamlet – and, at the Theatre Royal in Stock Lane, that of Abel Drugger in Ben Jonson’s ‘The Alchemist’: a part for which he became much celebrated. His second visit at the end of these five years saw him also manage and direct a season at the Smock Alley Theatre, alongside Thomas Sheridan. Garrick then spent some time acting at Covent Garden on his return.
David Garrick retired from his management of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1776, having continued to add roles to his repertoire throughout these years. He died at his Adelphi Buildings London home on 22nd January 1779; and was the first of only three actors to date to have been buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.
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