Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling

Past beyond the gallery archive
16 October 2010 - 8 January 2011

City of Plymouth Museum & Art Gallery


  • Partnership exhibition

William Shakespeare
associated with John Taylor
circa 1600-1610

Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling focuses on writers and their influences from the 16th century to the present day, addressing the areas of literature, poetry, plays and song-writing. One of the National Portrait Gallery's most prized possessions the ‘Chandos' portrait of William Shakespeare will feature in the exhibition and this will be the first time that the portrait has toured Britain.

The Gallery's first acquisition in 1856, the ‘Chandos' portrait is now considered the only representation of the writer that has any claim to have been painted from life. This follows groundbreaking analysis conducted by the Gallery as part of its 150th anniversary exhibition Searching for Shakespeare in 2006.

One of the world's best-known portraits, the painting shows the poet and playwright wearing a lace collar, moustache, beard and ear-ring. The ‘Chandos' portrait is attributed to the artist John Taylor and is named after a previous owner.

The work will be the centrepiece of Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, displaying 61 of the Gallery's most important literary portraits. Opening in Sheffield in April, the exhibition will travel to Southampton, Plymouth and Sunderland. One of the biggest touring exhibitions of the Gallery's portraits, it will include several of the Collection's most important works in a wide range of media.

Containing 61 works from the National Portrait Gallery collection the exhibition includes works across a wide range of media such as photography, paintings, hollow-cut silhouettes, archived prints, sculpture and plaster-cast life and death masks. Some of the fantastic pieces in the exhibition are Stuart Pearson-Wright's 3D portrait of JK Rowling, Bhupen Khakar's painted portrait of Salman Rushdie, Elliott & Fry's photograph of Oscar Wilde and Man Ray's photograph of Aldous Huxley. The exhibition will bring together paintings and photographs of such subjects as Geoffrey Chaucer, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, John Lennon, David Bowie, Benjamin Zephaniah Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Pullman, as well as casts taken from the faces of John Keats and William Blake. The exhibition will include work by Vanessa Bell, Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Patrick Heron and Lord Snowdon.

A collaborative exhibition between the National Portrait Gallery and four British venues, Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling will visit the Museums Sheffield: Graves Gallery (17 April-3 July 2010), Southampton City Art Gallery (23 July-26 September 2010), Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery (16 October 2010-8 January 2011), and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens (29 January 2010-27 March 2011.)

The exhibition and associated programmes of activity have been developed with young people from all the partner galleries, with the portraits being selected by young people working with Museums Sheffield.      

The exhibition is supported by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)/Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) Strategic Commissioning Programme.


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