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Paintings: G0049


Spranger Barry, Mary Elmy, Lacy Ryan


Oil on canvas



Hamlet : Hamlet
Gertrude : Hamlet
Ghost : Hamlet



Height: 127cm
Width: 108cm
height (frame): 137cm
width (frame): 118cm


Thomas Harris; Harris sale, Robins 12 July 1819 (32), with date 1757; Charles Mathews

Other number

Mathews 168 (Betterton as Hamlet and Mrs Barry as the Queen, artist unknown)
RW 115 (Betterton and Mrs Barry)
CKA 115

Exhibition history

1833 London, Queen's Bazaar, Oxford Street, "Mr Mathews's Gallery of Theatrical Portraits" (168) 1947 London, Arts Council, National Book League, "A History of Shakespeare Production" (3) 1951 London, Tate Gallery, "Pictures from the Garrick Club" (21) 1960 London, Kenwood House, "Francis Hayman" (18) 1964 London, Arts Council, "Shakespeare in Art" (13) 1987 Yale, British Art Centre and London, Kenwood House, "Francis Hayman" (41) 1997 London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, "Dramatic Art Theatrical Paintings from the Garrick Club" (35) 2003 Ferrara, Italy, Palazzo dei Diamanti and London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, "Shakespeare in Art" (31)

Related works

Folger Shakespeare Library, sketch in pencil, grey wash, pen and black ink, heightened with white 17.8x17.3

Engraving history

Grignion for Charles Jennen's edition of "Hamlet" 1773, line 13.8x9.8 (David Garrick's features are substituted for those of Spranger Barry) see Brian Allen "Hayman" catalogue No.41 and check-list No.311


Fitzgerald, pp.212-13; Griffiths, pp296-98; (Ed.) Jane Martineau and Desmond Shaw Taylor "Shakespeare in Art" [to accompany the exhibition "Shakespeare in Art" London, Dulwich Art Gallery 2003] pp122-3

The Ghost, on the left, wears a half-armour over long brown leather trousers. A broad orange sash is draped around his waist. Gertrude wears a very full red velvet panniered dress over a white silk petticoat, embroidered in gold with a deep floral pattern around the hem, and strands of pearls round her neck. Hamlet is dressed in black, with his left stocking ungartered.
It is unlikely that the interior reflects an actual production. The drawing in the Folger Library, probably a preliminary sketch for the painting, shows a large wardrobe, topped with vases, and a large platter in place of the looking glass. The composition extends further to the right, and the overturned chair is more conspicuous. The figures are more dramatically conceived, with the Ghost holding his baton in an extended right hand and Gertrude and Hamlet grappling with each other.
The Garrick Club painting is more sedate, and the memory of the performance is clearly tempered with the artistic prototype, Boitard's drawing, engraved by Kirkall's engraving for Rowe's 1709 edition of Shakespeare. Rowe's was the first illustrated edition, and it monopolised Shakespeare imagery until the mid-eighteenth century. The Hamlet and Gertrude in the 1709 engraving are traditionally supposed to be Thomas Betterton and Elizabeth Barry, and those identifications no doubt persuaded Mathews to identify Hayman's sitters as the great Restoration actors, both of whom were dead before the artist was five years old. Perhaps the engraving influenced performances as well as illustrations of “Hamlet”.
Hamlet's attitude was that adopted by all eighteenth-century Hamlets when seeing the Ghost. Perhaps the most celebrated example is Benjamin Wilson's portrait of Garrick, known only through the mezzotint by James McArdell of 1754. Garrick's pose is graphically described by Henry Fielding in “Tom Jones”. See also K. A. Burnim, “David Garrick: Director” (1961), pp. 159-161.
The identifaction of the Hamlet here as Spranger Barry is convincing. He played Hamlet at Covent Garden three times during 1757, the date mentioned in the Harris sale catalogue. However, he played opposite Peg Woffington on all three occasions, and the Gertrude in Hayman's picture does not show her. There is no comparative iconography for Mary Elmy, but she played Gertrude to Barry's Hamlet between 1751 and 1754. She returned to the role for the 1758-59 season, but David Ross was then her Hamlet. Ryan played the Ghost throughout the 1750s and gave his last performance in the role on 18 March 1760. Brian Allen dates the picture stylistically about 1755-60.
Also in the Garrick Club is a scene from “Hamlet” by James Roberts, once thought to show Barry as Hamlet and Mrs Barry as Gertrude. But the figures seem to be William Smith and Elizabeth Hopkins; see G0769.
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