British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 1.720 m
Height: 1.720 m (figure)
Bequeathed by David Garrick (1823)
Prehistory and Europe
Marble full-length figure of William Shakespeare by Louis-François Roubiliac
London, England, AD 1758
The celebrated actor David Garrick (1717-79) commissioned this sculpture from Roubiliac in 1757. It is widely thought that Garrick himself posed for the figure of Shakespeare; he greatly admired Shakespeare, and was largely responsible for restoring many of his works to favour, and for establishing his reputation abroad.
It is said that when he saw the head being carved his loud reaction was 'What!, was Shakespeare marked with mulberries?' Unfortunately the marble was flawed and, as Roubiliac chipped away, blue veins appeared. According to the story, the sculptor replaced the block at his own expense. In any case, Garrick seems to have been pleased with the result and paid £315. The pose, the detailed carving of the costume, particularly the cuffs and the pattern on the cloth covering the desk both demonstrate the artist's skill.
He housed the figure in a specially constructed Palladian temple by the River Thames, dedicated to Shakespeare. The temple could be reached by a tunnel under the road from his villa at Hampton, Middlesex. It still stands today, and has been restored. Garrick held meetings in the temple and entertained guests in the garden outside.
The reverse of the statue is roughly carved and drilled; it was never intended to be seen within the temple.
A. Dawson, Portrait sculpture, a catalogu (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)
M. Caygill, Treasures of the British Museu, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)