The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0021 Thursday, 11 January 2007
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Thursday, January 11, 2007
Subject: The Bard in the Picture
GUELPHMERCURY.COM | INSIDER
Shakespeare portrait goes on display tonight
THE BARD IN THE PICTURE; Exhibit at the Macdonald Stewart Art
Centre a part of 'Shakespeare - Made in Canada' festival
By BRIAN WHITWHAM
DARREN CALABRESE, GUELPH MERCURY
GUELPH (Jan 11, 2007)
There's mystery, intrigue and history behind the man encased in
bulletproof plastic at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre. The gentle
face-with its receding hairline, thin features and slight grin-stares
from a world-renowned portrait believed to be more than four centuries
old. Tonight, it will be unveiled for the thousands who will view it in
the coming months and decide for themselves whether the man in the
painting is in fact playwright William Shakespeare. The
"Shakespeare-Made in Canada" exhibition will be launched at the centre
at 7:30 p.m. The exhibition, as well as the festival built around it,
centres on the famous, and controversial, "Sanders portrait," which was
installed at the gallery last Friday.
Festival organizers say it's the oldest and most famous piece of art the
city has ever displayed. Many believe the painting is the only image of
the Bard that was painted while he was alive.
Sue Bennett, who sits on the festival's committee, expects the portrait
will bring visitors out in droves.
"I would hope there would be in excess of 50,000 people," said Bennett,
who works at the University of Guelph. "I don't see why there wouldn't be.
"Blockbusters don't usually get this far out of Toronto and Toronto
isn't that accessible for a lot of people. Guelph is." The painting has
been at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto for months but it's owned
by an Ottawa man, Lloyd Sullivan, whose family has passed it down
through 14 generations. His grandmother brought it to Canada from
England and the painting spent many years tucked away in a suitcase
under her bed.
When Sullivan inherited the portrait, he kept it in a cupboard at the
back of a closet and it was displayed on the wall of his dining room for
a number of years. Since 1991, he's been researching the painting, which
was unveiled to the public in 2001.
"It will never end up in a suitcase again," he said with a laugh
yesterday at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre. "The story started in
England, but it finished in Canada. It's a true Canadian treasure."
The image was created by John Sanders, believed to have belonged to the
same theatre company in England that Shakespeare was a part of.
For about the past 15 years, the portrait-at its owner's bidding-has
gone through extensive testing to determine when it was painted.
"There is no question it is the true life image of William Shakespeare,"
Sullivan said. "There used to be 450 paintings of Shakespeare. Ours is
The oak panel that was used has been dated to a tree that was felled in
1585. The new Globe Theatre in London, England, has said the robe worn
by the man in the painting seems to fit with what Shakespeare's status
was in society when he was alive.
Judy Nasby, the director and curator of the Macdonald Stewart Art
Centre, said the portrait has only become more famous as the testing
continues to tie it to Shakespeare's era. The Bard died in 1616.
Nasby said she has stopped and gazed at the painting several times since
it was installed. Apart from its beauty, she said the mystery is what
"All of those questions are there," she said. "Is it really Will
Shakespeare? That's the question."
But the painting is only one part of a festival that includes hundreds
of pieces from museums as far west as Vancouver and as far east as
Nasby is one of eight curators who have put the exhibit together. The
Macdonald Stewart Art Centre will be selling a book of essays from the
curators, explaining their contributions.
The exhibit, which includes costumes, stage models, portraits, new media
presentations and recordings, took about a year and a half to put
together. Nasby said the art gallery's upgrades for security,
temperature and humidity controls cost about $40,000 alone.
Admission to the centre is free but donations will be accepted.
Bennett said the "Shakespeare-Made in Canada" festival will continue
throughout Guelph until late May, just before the exhibit closes in June.
"We've got more than 40 community groups putting on concerts and
performances," Bennett said. "There are almost 100 performances and
Despite the fact that it was passed through one family for hundreds of
years, the Sanders portrait is in extremely good condition. Nasby said
it was painted on high-quality English oak, which helped it age.
Nasby clearly gets excited when she speaks about the painting, its
history and Shakespeare.
But she paused when asked whether the man's eyes in the portrait seemed
to follow visitors across the room.
"I think people have to make up their own mind on what they think about
that," Nasby said with a smile.
"People have to decide for themselves."
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Hardy M. Cook,
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