Thursday, February 7, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Hogarth's Richard III, 1840

Staffordshire Flatback
David Garrick as Richard III
Based on the painting by Hogarth
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The recent discovery of the bones of the misunderstood monarch, Richard III makes this porcelain figure all the more interesting.  Here, we see a glazed earthenware flatback figure of David Garrick as Richard III. He is seated in a white tent, wearing a green coat with a textured “ermine” border with gilt details on both the tent and on his costume.

These earthenware flatbacks and figurines were designed as mantelpiece decorations, and, as we know, were first produced in Staffordshire in the late 1830s—originally with figures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. As the decades passed, and the figures became more popular, they were created in a wide range of popular subjects ranging from the Royal to the theatrical.

This flatback of celebrated actor David Garrick as Richard III depicts the famous tent scene before the Battle of Bosworth, when Richard is haunted by the ghosts of those he had murdered. The composition was modeled after a painting from 1745 by William Hogarth. I like that the V&A has pointed out, “In the painting his hand is raised in a gesture of horror and not the rather benign royal wave it appears to be in the flatback.”

Just a biographical note on David Garrick (1717-1779)—he was recognized as one of the greatest actors ever in both comedy and tragedy. Born in Hereford, Garrick came to London in 1737 to work as a wine merchant but made his London debut as an actor at Goodman's Fields as Richard III in 1741. Later, he managed the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from 1747 until 1776.

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