Joseph George Holman
Oil on canvas
Edgar : King Lear
height (frame): 85cm
width (frame): 72cm
Thomas Harris; Harris sale, Robins 12 July 1819 (14); Charles Mathews
1833 London, Queen's Bazaar, Oxford Street, "Mr Mathews's Gallery of Theatrical Portraits" (154)
1982-3 London, Royal Academy, "Royal Opera House Retrospective 1732-1982" (127)
1997 London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, "Dramatic Art
Theatrical Paintings from the Garrick Club" (9)
The “Morning Herald” 22 March 1794; Patmore p. 272; John O'Keeffe “Recollections” (1826), 2: 326-27; Hayes 1968; Fitzgerald p. 214
Edgar, wearing yellowish-brown rags, grasps a rough branch.
This picture was mentioned in the “Morning Herald” for 22 March 1794 as already finished. Holman played the part five times during the 1793-94 season to Alexander Pope's Lear, the first performance that season, on 6 January 1794, being the first time it had been played since 4 November 1791. Productions of the play became less frequent as George III's periodic bouts of madness made the subject of the play awkwardly relevant.
O'Keeffe's description of Holman sitting for this picture is the only published eye-witness account of an 18th-century theatrical portrait being painted:
“About this time  my old friend Quick brought me to see Gainsborough Dupont, the portrait-painter, at his house in London-street. Mr. Harris had employed him to paint, for himself, the principal performers of Covent Garden theatre, in their most distinguished characters. In the front room were many portraits in different states of forwardness. The Right Hon. William Pitt was on the easel; Governor Hastings standing on the floor; and against the wall Quick, in Spado, with his little pistol, which he calls his barrel-organ, in his hand. On the door of the back drawing-room opening, I was surprised, and a little shocked, to see the room darkened, and lighted by a large lamp hanging from the centre of the ceiling: there stood a man half naked, a ghastly figure, with a blanket round him, staring wildly, holding a pole in his stretched-out hand. This was Holman, in the character of Edgar, mad Tom; Gainsborough Dupont was painting him. I heard it was the custom of the latter to paint much by lamp-light.”
Mathews notation suggests that scene shows a moment in Act III, scene 6, when Edgar, feigning madness, speaks the line "Avaunt, you curs."