What’s in a frame? Apparently, Shakespeare himself! The artwork of Elizabethan painter Robert Peake displayed at Grosvenor House hotel in west London is believed to be the only painting of William Shakespeare during his lifetime. The anonymous owner offers the piece for sale by private treaty without an auction for nearly $12 million. Speaking to The Guardian, researcher Duncan Phillips, an art and antiques writer, said, “We shall never really know what William Shakespeare looked like. But when you look at the evidence of this portrait, it far outweighs any other likeness of him. One historian said that if anyone was ever likely to have painted Shakespeare, it was Robert Peake. Shakespeare and Peake worked in the same building and would have known each other well.”
The painting, bought for £400 at a 1975 auction, hung in the library of the Danby family’s stately home in the north of England. Phillips added, “It is a monogrammed and dated work by a portrait painter of serious status with connections to the artist who produced the image for the First Folio. The picture has survived the past 400 years almost untouched by wear and tear thanks to its ownership by a family of Shakespeare enthusiasts who hung it in their library.” On the other hand, Shakespeare expert Michael Dobson dismissed the idea that the painting is indeed of the Bard as “wishful thinking.”
The expert argued, ‘It is not labeled as a portrait of Shakespeare, who would surely have insisted on having his coat of arms in one corner of the canvas.” He added, “It does not resemble either of the portraits of Shakespeare vouched for by his family and friends, the Stratford funerary monument, and the print on the title page of the First Folio.”
While Mr. Philips’s excitement over the painting is palpable, Dobson strictly believes only two Shakespeare paintings are valid; the first is the engraving by Martin Droeshout in the First Folio of his plays, published in 1623. The second is the effigy at his funeral monument in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Ultimately, it comes down to an affluent art aficionado finding the evidence compelling. A couple of million dollars will bring to life the forgotten face of the father of modern English Literature.