Flower Portrait - History


According to statements by Edgar Flower, whose family had owned the painting, it was acquired sometime around 1840 by a Mr H.C. Clements, whose widow sold it to a member of the Flower family. Mrs C. Flower donated it to the Shakespeare Memorial trust in Stratford, and it was exhibited at its picture gallery there in 1892. A number of experts who studied it at the time accepted that it was an authentic 17th-century painting. It was exhibited as the original from which the Droeshout engraving had been copied. Sidney Lee, in his 1898 biography of Shakespeare, declared that "no other pictorial representation of the poet has equally serious claims to be treated as contemporary with himself". However, in 1904, the art critic Marion Spielmann undertook a detailed analysis in which he demonstrated that the painting resembled Droeshout's revised second-state print rather than the original print, concluding that if Droeshout had copied the painting, then the first version would be more directly imitative. He took the view that the painting was an early copy of the print.

Many historians accepted this argument, but the painting still had its defenders. In 1966, an X-ray revealed that the portrait was painted on top of a 16th-century painting that depicts a Madonna and child with John the Baptist. In 2000, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel reasserted claims to the painting's authenticity, publishing a detailed argument in 2006.

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