The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1123  Monday, 14 May 2001

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Saturday, 12 May 2001 08:56:15 -0700
        Subj:   Possible New Portrait

[2]     From:   William Sutton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Sunday, 13 May 2001 06:38:21 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Portrait

From:           Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, 12 May 2001 08:56:15 -0700
Subject:        Possible New Portrait

Hi, all.

The following just appeared in The Globe and Mail.  Apparently, an
Ontario man has a painting which is possibly a portrait of Shakespeare,
and which, in any case, was labelled as such at the time that it was
painted.  This is rather a long cut-and-paste job, so you can hit
'delete' now if you aren't interested.

A follow-up article is in today's Globe, at

Cut-and-paste job follows:

'It's time to reveal Shakespeare to the world'
Saturday, May 12, 2001

Imagine John Sanders putting down his brush, the end still wet with a
dark-blue paint, stiff from the egg white mixed in the pigment. Imagine
him stepping back from the easel in his small home in Worcester on a
warm day in mid-May in 1603, and admiring his handiwork. When the
painting has dried to its oak square, he turns it over to affix a small
piece of rag linen inscribed, "Shakspere, Born April 23 1564," leaves
the next line blank, then adds, "This Likeness taken 1603, Age at that
time 39 ys." He hangs the picture on the wall, only taking it down 13
years later to fill in the blank line: "Died April 23 1616, Aged 52." He
puts it back on the wall, or in a trunk, and leaves it to his eldest son
after his own death in 1637. That playwright from nearby Stratford, once
a friend of his, is getting to be well known, Sanders might remind his
son, so hold on to the painting -- it might be worth something someday.
John Sanders's son did just that, and so did 12 generations of Sanders
sons, and by the 1960s the painting lay under the bed of a woman in
Montreal, where her grandson used to see the corners of the packet
sticking out and hear his relatives argue over whether to keep or sell
that picture of the poet from Stratford -- who did, indeed, turn out to
be rather well known.

When he grew up and retired, that grandson decided to investigate the
painting's many mysteries: Is it really Shakespeare, and painted in
1603?  He spent his savings to seek answers to those questions. Now, the
answers promise to change his life, as well as the state of Shakespeare
scholarship.  But how did what might be the only extant portrait made of
Shakespeare in his lifetime end up in the hands of his Ontario family?
The Sanders family prospered in England, and a talent for painting ran
through the generations. Another John Sanders was a fellow of the Royal
Academy in the 1800s, and had his work in galleries. But in the early
years of this century, the Sanders patriarch decided that better
fortunes were to be had in the colonies. He brought the clan, and a
trove of 300 works he had painted, collected or inherited, to Montreal.
This picture was just one in the collection. It came with the
identifying linen label, now illegible (though readable under
fluorescent light), and a wonderful story that it was painted by a
relative who acted with Shakespeare and dabbled in portraiture.

But the family thought that must be a myth, because in 1909 the painting
was taken to a London expert, one A. M. Spielmann, who examined it and
said, regrettably, that it couldn't be Shakespeare. It wasn't nearly old
enough. Still a nice piece of work, though. And so it went back in the
cupboard and, later, into a trunk shipped to Montreal.  On the
patriarch's death, the painting went to his oldest son, along with the
story of its creation. The son and his 12 siblings would gather in
Grandmother's kitchen on Saturday nights, and debate endlessly: Keep
it?  Sell it? Exhibit it?

The painting, meanwhile, sat beneath Grandmother's bed, wrapped in brown
paper. Periodically, a tidy son would threaten to chuck it out during
spring cleaning. In about 1960, the eldest son was instructed to take it
to a gallery. The picture was exhibited under the family's assertion
that it was a portrait of Shakespeare. A Montreal dealer offered
$100,000; the son told a newspaper that he might use the money to go
around the world -- a declaration that infuriated his siblings. The
offer of money ignited fierce debate in the family. In the end, one
sister (the current owner's mother), always the peacemaker, prevailed,
convincing them the painting should stay in the family.

On the uncle's death, it came back to that same sister, who stashed it
in a cupboard. On her death, she left it to her only child, the present
owner.  The painting survived floods and fires and spring cleanings,
perhaps because, regardless of its subject, it is a bewitching piece of
art.  Somewhere along the way worms got to it, leaving a series of
gouges in the top, and possibly chewing away the bottom inch that
included a signature.  But the family has always been relatively
well-off, and so the portrait was treasured, never sold to pay off a
mortgage, gambling debts or doctor's bills.  The current owner hung it
on his dining-room wall for a while, until his wife redecorated and poor
old Shakespeare didn't match, and then he went into a closet -- or was
it the basement? The owner was a busy man, an engineer who frequently
put in 18-hour days, with kids to raise and plenty of church and charity
work to do. His mother told him that the painting's history should be
his retirement project, and he figured he would get to it eventually.

"I thought, damn it, when I retire and I've got nothing to do, I'm gonna
research this," he says. "I'm not going to sit in a rocking chair and
read newspapers. And, I mean, nobody in the family moved the yardsticks
on this in the whole 400 years."

He could not have imagined, then, what he was getting into. The project
he began 10 years ago has since consumed his life savings, produced a
pile of paper that threatens to overwhelm the second storey of his
house, and made him a late-in-life scholar of Shakespeare, versed in the
most obscure arcana of the Elizabethan giant's life and work.  The owner
is not a man with any previous knowledge of art. Above his living-room
sofa hangs the ubiquitous type of living-room painting, a red barn
beneath a somewhat lurid sunset. But he recruited to the cause a lawyer
friend of the family, another one-time novice now intimately versed in
art history and carbon dating. They spent weeknights and weekends in the
local university library, poring over historical texts and looking for
clues.  Like most everyone else, they always thought they knew what
Shakespeare looked like, and initially they hoped their portrait would
match some of the others. But early in their research, they discovered
that there is intense scholarly controversy over the other portraits. In
the 1850s, a pair of rogues called Holder and Zincke launched a cottage
industry in Shakespeare portraits, putting a ruff here and a doublet
there on dusty pictures of Lord This and Earl That, then selling their
"discoveries" for heaps of money. Nobody knew any better. But today,
scientific dating techniques instantly identify such fakes.

The other serious contenders are portraits known by the names of their
owners -- the Flower, the Grafton, the Chandos. Most have been
discredited by the new tests; the exception, the Chandos, hangs in
London's National Portrait Gallery. An X-ray of the Flower picture found
a Madonna and Child beneath it; other pictures were found under
fluorescent light to have been altered (some to look more like other,
more credible portraits of Shakespeare) years after they were first
painted.  Only two images are, in the opinions of orthodox scholars,
true likenesses, and both were completed after Shakespeare's death.
There is a bust on his tomb in the Church of the Holy Trinity in
Stratford, a somewhat crude affair carved by a stonemason, not a
sculptor, but which appears to have been approved by Shakespeare's wife,
Anne Hathaway.  And then there is a print done by the artist Martin
Droeshout for the frontispiece of the First Folio of Shakespeare's
plays, published in 1623.  That engraving seems to have been made from a
drawing that may have been sketched while Shakespeare was alive, but
that drawing does not survive.  In 1993, the Sanders portrait owner used
a family connection to arrange a meeting with Anthony Chricton-Stuart,
of the Old Masters department at Christie's auction house in New York.
Chricton-Stuart said the painting was in excellent condition, the owner
recalls, and would likely go for at least $100,000 at auction,
regardless of its subject. But if it could be authenticated as
Shakespeare, he said, it was likely worth millions.  (Around the same
time, a family friend who knew of the painting heard that Vanessa
Redgrave was coming to a nearby city for a performance and called her
manager, offering to let her view what was perhaps the only life
portrait of Shakespeare. The offer was accepted, but Redgrave was forced
to cancel, and later sent a polite note expressing her regret at missing
it.) The assessment of the Christie's expert inspired the owner to begin
the laborious and hugely expensive process of authentication. He made
his way to the Canadian Conservation Institute, a branch of the federal
Department of Canadian Heritage, which does restoration and
authentication for Canadian museums. "I was in awe of the place," he
recalls of that first trip. "It was like 2001: A Space Odyssey,all the
machines and such." At that meeting, the institute staff told him of the
process his painting would have to go through -- and of the costs
involved. "I almost fainted," he recalls of being told the first cost
estimate. They also kindly advised him that their work was generally
done for institutions, not wide-eyed innocents who walked in off the
street with a portrait under their arms.  But they agreed, in the end,
to take on the portrait -- he would pay for the tests as he could, and
they would do the work in slow periods.  The CCI did as much as it
could, X-raying the picture, photographing it under fluorescent light
and analyzing the chemical compounds of its paint.  At every step, they
could have turned up evidence that the painting was a fake. But they
didn't. There was no picture underneath it, no changes made at a later
date. The date in the corner wasn't added later (researchers could tell
because there was no layer of dust and varnish between it and the rest
of the painting).

These tests put paid to the Spielmann analysis, which then stood between
the portrait and possible authenticity. In an issue of Connoisseur
magazine published in 1909, Spielmann -- a man who had seen dozens of
purported Shakespeare pictures -- told of his analysis of the "Sanders
Portrait," brought to him for examination by its then owner. He wrote,
"I am far from suggesting Mr. Hale Sanders' portrait is a fake." He
noted that the face was painted in "a delicate manner characteristic of
17th-century portraiture" and said it was "pure, and a good example of
the period." The face, eyes, mustache, eyebrows and "attachment of the
ear" matched the Droeshout, he said.

But, but -- he concluded that its subject looked too young to be
Shakespeare at 39, that the collar and dress were added later, that the
paper label on the back was only 50-odd years old, that the paint was

However, Spielmann did his work by eye. Ninety years later, the analysis
of the CCI disproved his criticisms: The paper is at least 300 years
old, the paint is from the period and all the painting was done at the
same time.  Eventually, the CCI told the owner that it had done all it
could, and he needed to call in the big guns. A tiny fragment of the
label on the back was sent to the IsoTrace Radiocarbon Library at the
University of Toronto for radiocarbon dating, which revealed that it was
340 years old, plus or minus 50 years.

The bills mounted. A radiocarbon dating costs about $1,000, while the
CCI conservationists' labour costs $110 per hour, and tests can take a
team of researcher weeks. The owner used up his retirement savings,
considered a bank loan, took part-time jobs.

There was one more big test. The owner paid to bring Dr. Peter Klein, an
expert with a peerless international reputation, to see the painting at
the CCI. Klein is an expert in dendrochronology, the science of dating
using the characteristic annual growth rings of trees to assign dates to
timber.  His analysis concluded that the painting was on oak from a
Baltic forest, could not have been painted before 1597 and, given the
normal storage times for wood at the time, "a creation is plausible from
1603 upwards." (None of this, of course, proves anything conclusively.
What it does is rule out details that would make the portrait
inauthentic.) Next came the question of provenance. Curators and
appraisers demand to know a painting's history, its pedigree -- who
owned it and where they got it. The owner had his story, handed down
through the Sanders clan, crediting the panting to one John Sanders,
small-time actor. And he had the painting. But he needed the lineage. He
had a family Bible with a family tree going back to 1790. The years
before that he would have to fill in himself.

So he began making regular trips to the International Genealogical Index
at the Ottawa Family History Centre, a public facility partly supported
by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons, who
believe that one's ancestors can be baptized and saved posthumously, are
strong proponents of genealogical research). He began to fill in the
holes in the family tree, moving the living-room furniture aside to lay
out cards covered in dates of births and deaths and marriages. When he
had more money, he hired a genealogist in Worcester to search church
records. Today, the family tree is complete back to 1680.

However much science and genealogy can tell us, though, one mystery can
probably not be solved with certainty: Who really is the subject of the

John Sanders existed. He is in the church records, christened at All
Souls Church in Worcester, ancestral home of the Sanders clan, in March,
1575. In the family story, he dabbled in painting -- portraits and
painting jobs in the theatre, although Elizabethan stages did not have
backdrops as we know them -- and worked as a jobbing actor. According to
the family and some academic sources, there is a John Sanders in the
records of stage companies at the time, on the rolls of the
Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men at the same time as Shakespeare.

There are some other clues, such as the spelling of Shakespeare's name
on the label -- "Shakspere," which is how the playwright himself signed
his name on his will and on another of the six surviving documents that
bear his signature.

But nothing, of course, can prove Sanders painted this picture, that his
mate Shakespeare sat for it, or that the painter was telling the truth
when he (if it was him) put the label on the back.

After all, there is huge scholarly wrangling over who really wrote the
"Shakespeare" plays, and many question that it was the mercantile fellow
from Stratford-upon-Avon. Much of the debate around the other portraits
of that Shakespeare has centred on whether he would have had his
portrait painted at all. Some argue that because he was not a person of
high social status or much of a presence at Court, he would not have had
a portrait done, a luxury reserved for the wealthy.

Others -- Stanley Wells, a scholar who heads the Shakespeare Birthplace
Trust, for one -- point out that in 1603, Shakespeare would have been a
wealthy man (from his wool- and grain-trading enterprises, if not from
the theatre) and "there is no reason he shouldn't have had a portrait
painted." A play entitled Return to Parnassus, an anonymous student work
written in about 1599 and performed at St. John's College at Cambridge
University, contains the line, "Oh Sweet Master Shakespeare, I'll have
his picture in my study."

There is no written record of Shakespeare sitting for a portrait by
Sanders or anybody else. But the owner believes this: That the painter,
a contemporary of Shakespeare's, knew he was destined for great things.
That he set out to create an heirloom, something that would be of
emotional if not financial value, and so chose the best paints and wood
(rather than painting on canvas) of his time. "There's no proof. Nobody
knows. But there is not one negative thing to prove [this theory]
wrong." The owner intends to sell it soon, likely through a large U.S.
auction house. That, of course, will be the end of its 400 years in the
Sanders family. "My kids aren't interested," he says, a brief sadness
twisting his face. He laughs, a little wryly: "They think I'm an ATM, so
I'll just do what I'm supposed to do."

Before the painting can be sold in the United States, it must be
considered by a board under the Cultural Property Export and Import Act,
which governs the removal of any work of cultural significance to Canada
from the country. Canadian institutions must be given the opportunity to
bid on it -- although it is unlikely that a Canadian gallery could
afford to buy the work at its probable reserve price. Similarly, the
owner has not been able to take it to Britain for evaluation because
British law gives the government the right to seize work of cultural
significance there and bar its export.

Appraisers hesitate to put a value on it, for nothing comparable has
ever been auctioned. Unofficially, the owner has been told anything from
hundreds of thousands to tens of millions. He and his wife like the idea
of the money, of course, though the higher estimates are impossible
really to fathom.

They would help out their children's young families, naturally, and they
have causes they would like to support -- the message of a charismatic
church group to which they belong, for one. They would assist many of
the people with disabilities they have met through their community work:
a blind girl who needs a scholarship, another child who needs
transport.  After these long years of research, though, the owner has
another motivation. He believes there is a truth to be told. "I'm so
darn sick of seeing that Droeshout picture everywhere I go!" he bursts
out. "On buses and on billboards -- it's even on the door of the men's
room of Chapters!" The world, he says, has been deprived of the true
face of Shakespeare, the most revered man after Jesus, in his
estimation, and he'd simply like to set the historical record straight.

"I hope it doesn't end up on somebody's wall," he says. "It should be in
a museum where people can see it. It's time to reveal Shakespeare to the

From:           William Sutton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Sunday, 13 May 2001 06:38:21 -0700 (PDT)
Subject:        Shakespeare's Portrait

Exciting news!


this url is where I found some articles. Anyone with more info and god
forbid an actual photo of the painting please update.

In the name of Will,
William Sutton

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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