(click image to enlarge)
DATED 'AUGT 16 1833'
PEN INK AND MONOCHROME WATERCOLOUR
7 3/4 X 12 INCHES
EXHIBITED: 'THE LONG NINETEENTH CENTURY: TREASURES AND PLEASURES',
MARCH - APRIL 2014, NO 03
John White Abbott worked essentially in a Pastoral mode, influenced by such landscape painters as Claude Lorrain but also inspired by a literary tradition that included the comedies of Shakespeare. This drawing of 1833 represents the lines from As You Like It in which a lord describes his discovery of ‘the melancholy Jacques’ lying ‘under an oak’ and lamenting the wounding of a stag. From the time that Virgil was writing in the 1st Century BC, the melancholy mood had been closely associated with the Pastoral.
The drawing is almost certainly the study for John White Abbott’s 1838 oil of the same name in the collection of the Royal Albert Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter. (For an image of this, see Carolyn Jane Baker 1971, No 18, Plate A.)
The subject was not unique to Abbott. In 1790, William Hodges had collaborated with George Romney (for the figures) and Sawrey Gilpin (for the stag) on a canvas for John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery (which is now in the Yale Center for British Art). Then, in 1819, John Constable’s patron, Sir George Beaumont, painted an oil with the same title (now in the Tate).
Constable himself undertook a commission to illustrate the subject at about the same time that Abbott produced his drawing. It eventually appeared in The Seven Ages of Shakespeare, an anthology published by John Van Voorst in 1840, three years after Constable’s death. Constable produced about 20 drawings in order to arrive at his finished watercolour (which is now likely to be in a private collection).