7 Pieces of Art Inspired by Shakespeare

Earlier this week we visited Shakespeare and death as part of the 400th anniversary of his passing. I thought it would be nice to take a break and do something different. Last year as part of the 450th anniversary of his birth I gave you lists of inspired book titles, music, and poetry. You can find them all here, under the Words, words, words, Shakespeare page. Today we are looking at 7 pieces of art inspired by Shakespeare.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti The Question 1875

Pencil, approximately 19 x 16 inches. Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England.

In a letter to his friend Frederick Stephens, Rossetti said that this drawing is based on Shakespeare’s great line, “To be or not to be, that is the question”. Rossetti may have been inspired by both Shakespeare and the death of Oliver Madox Brown, the son of Rossetti’s friend, Ford Madox Brown. Oliver drowned in 1874. The death must have been distressing to Rossetti who also said in his letter to Stephens, “The mystery of early death, one of the hardest of all impenetrable dooms“.


Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne, 1876

Oil on canvas, 52.5 x 104.25 inches. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

This painting depicts the scene that occurs in Richard III, when Richard, who has played a part in the deaths of Edward, Prince of Wales, and his father, Henry VI, admits, “What though I killed her husband and father,” maliciously woos Anne, who is taking the body of her father-in-law Henry VI to his burial in Chertsey. The painting was accompanied in the Royal Academy catalogue for 1896 with these lines from Richard’s final passage in the scene: “Was ever woman in this humor wooed? / Was ever woman in this humor won?” I’ve yet to see a production that fully explains Anne’s willingness to marry the man who wanted to “prove himself a villain”


Sir John Gilber, Shylock after the trail 1873

Steel engraving, approximately 6.5 x 10.5 inches, by G. Greatbach. The engraving is from Charles Knight’s two-volume Imperial Edition of The Works of Shakespeare (London)

Here’s a fun fact, the title of Gilbert’s painting is a misidentification and so is misnamed. After the trial Shylock leaves the stage and we hear no more of him. The action Gilbert illustrates here occurs before the trial but after Shylock learns that his daughter Jessica has eloped with Lorenzo (and a large sum of his money). This painting shows Shylock running madly through the streets lamenting his lost daughter and money. It should be titled, Shylock after the betrayal.


William Blake Portrait of Shakespeare Date unknown 1800-1803 (?)

Tempera on canvas, approximately 16 x 32 inches. Manchester City Art Galleries

Blake based Shakespeare’s portrait on the engraving of Droeshout (First Folio fame). Shakespeare is surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves. Emory points out, on the right is the scene where Macbeth goes to the witches and receives his second set of prophecies; on the left is the ghost of Banquo, pointing to the first of the succession of kings”.


Edward Robert Hughes The Shrew Katherina, 1898

Watercolor, 19 x 28 inches. The collection of Mr. and Mrs. Sandor Korein.

This paining fascinates me; it could be any woman who has a lot on her mind. The color scheme matches the Lady Katherina’s mood. Emory tell us:

Hughes portrays Katherine in an uncharacteristically pensive mood, contemplating her empty plate and glass, hungry, and no doubt mulling over what course of action she might take. She complains of her hunger to the servant Grumio and implores him to bring her some food.


Charles Hunt The Play Scene in Hamlet 1868

Oil on canvas, approximately 18 x 26 inches. Yale Center for British Art.

I found this painting to be so fun and full of life I just had to share it. This is my first taste of Hunt; he could easily become one of my favorite artists. Apparently the Victorians agreed, as they adored paintings of children as much as they did Shakespeare. Hunt found success with this painting and produced other whimsical painting of children performing Shakespeare. His works include, The Banquet Scene: “Macbeth” and The Trial Scene: “The Merchant of Venice”. Oh how I’d love to have them all.


Henry Fuseli The Three Witches Date unknown. After 1783

Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Picture Gallery and Museum, Stratford-upon-Avon.

This is the painting that always comes to mind when I think of when artists and Shakespeare.Not much is known what inspired Fuseli to paint the three witches as accusers, which is to bad, as this is one of the most famous Shakespeare inspired pieces of art, next to Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare inspired piece of art? What would you have included in your list?


Works referenced/Cited

English.Emory. edu Shakespeare Illustrated

Shakespeare, William Richard III Folger’s edition

A biography of each artist can be found by clicking the link on their name

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

7 thoughts on “7 Pieces of Art Inspired by Shakespeare”

  1. An interesting selection, Sari, and images to the best of my knowledge I’m unfamiliar with, so thanks!

    We recently had a day trip to Bath where we visited two art galleries. In the Holburne Museum I came across a curious picture of the 18th-century actor Charles Macklin as Shylock [you can see this painting — Johann Zoffany’s “Charles Macklin (c.1697-1797) as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare at Covent Garden,” completed in 1768, here: http://www.twocoatsofpaint.com/2010/12/new-home-for-somerset-maughams.html%5D. This US blog notes that the painting was once owned by the writer Somerset Maugham.

    What I found odd about this was the depiction of Macklin’s arms — don’t they seem too long and out of proportion for his body to you, especially the actor’s left arm? Most disconcerting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had to go look for the picture as the link you provided didn’t work. To be honest, the left seemed a little long, but not so much that I would have noticed had you not pointed it out. He does seem to be clutching his hands awfully tightly though; a sure sign this is Shylock.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Picture or play? 🙂
        Let me give you the rundown on the calendar.




        (actually a copy of that painting by Reginald Grenville Eves)






        And that’s the lot! Some of these look a bit more vibrant on the calendar; I picked Wikipedia images even so when I could, as they tend to stick around.


      2. Wow, love it! Some I have never seen before. I’ve always liked the Terry Ellen painting; but I don’t associate it with Lady M. Not sure I could pick a favorite out of this list as they all are very well done. The gravediggers picture does seem to standout to me. Will have to get a closer look.
        Thanks for sharing the calendar and the beautiful art work inspired by Shakespeare.

        Liked by 1 person

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