"COMPLETELY ALTERED THE COURSE OF ENGLISH PAINTING": MONUMENTAL 1802 BOYDELL ILLUSTRATED SHAKESPEARE, IN SPLENDID MOROCCO-GILT
SHAKESPEARE, William. The Dramatic Works of Shakspeare. Revised by George Steevens. London: W. Bulmer and Company for John and Josiah Boydell, and George Nichol, 1802. Nine volumes. Large thick folio (each volume measures approximately 13 by 17 inches), contemporary full burgundy morocco, raised bands, elaborately gilt-decorated covers and spines, all edges gilt. $21,000.
The monumental 1802 Boydell-Steevens edition of Shakespeare's Works, complete with two engraved frontispieces and the full complement of 94 fine full-page copper engravings after paintings by the leading English artists of the time. Edited by Boydell and revised by renowned 18th-century Shakespearean scholar George Steevens. Sumptuously bound in full contemporary morocco-gilt.
"Boydell's gallery completely altered the course of English painting. Most painters earned their livings by painting portraits for the wealthy nobility, but when Boydell began to commission works from the best artists in England, they were free to explore other topics and themes, drawn first from Shakespeare's plays, then from other writers, and finally from the classics and English history. Boydell had almost single-handedly created a market for what was called 'history painting,' and painters had a source of income that was not rooted primarily in portraiture" (Friedman, 2). Contributors include Reynolds, Fuseli, Smirke, Northcote, Porter, Stothard, Hamilton, Bunbury, Opie and Westall. These images were "used repeatedly to illustrate the works of Shakespeare, and they appear in all sorts of modified, adapted, and borrowed forms in engravings and drawings that accompany the plays. Producers, directors and critics were all part of that public exposed to the Boydell prints" (Rusche). According to Boydell's prospectus of 1786, a type foundry, an ink factory, and a printing house were all specially erected for the production of this edition. He began issuing the work in 1791 in 18 eventual parts, then published a nine-volume folio edition in 1802 (this set), and finally a two-volume elephant folio of all the engravings in 1803. "There can be no doubt that Boydell's Shakespeare… was the most splendid of bibliophile editions undertaken in the 18th century or at any other time… no Printing Press, which has hitherto existed, ever produced a work… so uniformly beautiful" (Franklin, 47-48). "During the last decade or two, [circa 1890-1910] complete surviving sets have greatly decreased in number…" (Jaggard, 506, 508). This set with 1802 general title page for each volume, all half titles, and a complete complement of 96 folio plates, including the second frontispiece bust of Shakespeare not listed in the Directions to the Binder (not bound in this copy), which calls for 95 plates. Includes the important prefaces of Pope and Johnson.
Two leaves in Volume II from Much Ado About Nothing supplied from a smaller copy. Scattered foxing, a few instances of faint dampstaining; magnificent contemporary binding with modest wear to boards. A beautiful copy of a historic edition of Shakespeare.