is this william shakespeare?
The Wadlow Portrait
one of the most important paintings in the world?
In 2012 Steven Wadlow started a journey of research into a family painting that became a labour of love which continues to this day. Having previously had no interest in art, or Shakespeare, he became engrossed in the study of both when a lecturer in English and art visited the family home and spotted a painting hanging above the television. She asked "where did you get the reproduction of Shakespeare?" Peter Wadlow, Steven's father, who was an antique dealer pointed out that it wasn't a reproduction but a genuine portrait in oil on board. Peter added that he had been told that it was painted in 1595. Having taken a closer the lecturer sat down and asked for a drink. Convinced that the sitter was Shakespeare she explained that there are no paintings of Shakespeare painted when he was alive and that meant it could be one of the most important paintings in the world.
As a self-employed window cleaner, Steven has for the past ten years juggled work, family and research in his search for the truth. During this time many others have come to think that the portrait dubbed by experts as The Wadlow Portrait is in fact a life time portrait of William Shakespeare.
The Wadlow Portrait. The portrait was given this name by Simon Stirling who was one of the first people to write an article about it
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This is a video merger created by Lumiere technology of Paris, compares the Wadlow portrait with the Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare used on the first folio of his plays published in 1623.
Steven’s father Peter, bought the painting in the late 1960s from a father and son company called Pryse-Hughes who were picture restorers from Pinner. They had been asked to sort, clean and value a number of paintings from a large house in Banbury. The owners were looking for funds and were hoping to “discover a Rembrandt” to fund much required restoration work on the house.
Steven Wadlow is researching the true identity of the enigmatic portrait.
Peter Wadlow had his business in Pinner where the Pryse-Hughes’ lived but their main office was in Dover Street at the heart of the London art market. Peter paid the Pryse-Hughes' £700 for the portrait which he was told was painted in 1595. The painting then hung on the wall of the family home above the television.
Forty years later, whilst watching an episode of Time Team about Shakespeare’s house in Stratford Peter noticed that the portrait of the bard used in the programme looked remarkably similar to the old portrait hanging above the tv in the family home. A few days later, the English and Art lecturer visited and Steven's search began.
This was the start of an incredible detective story as over the following years Steven took the family portrait to be subjected to scientific tests and the scrutiny of the art experts. After many ups and downs and dead ends, a trip to Paris led one of the world’s leading art experts to declare:
"I think you might be right. I think it is Shakespeare."
What did Shakespeare
The Stratford Bust
The earliest images we have of Shakespeare were made about seven years after his death. An examination of Shakespeare’s bust in his family church in Stratford upon Avon shows that it has been altered so many times that it is unlikely that it now resembles the towns most famous son. However a description of the original bust states;
This description closely matches the Wadlow portrait in many ways. The ornamental slashes, the hazel eyes and the auburn hair in particular.
The Stratford memorial bust
of William Shakespeare
The Droeshout engraving
The other image from this period is the engraving used on the first volume of his plays published in 1623 known as the Droeshout engraving. But this engraving was created by a man who never met Shakespeare.
Most experts believe that the engraving was based on a portrait that was painted whilst he was still alive. There are a few portraits that claim to be that painting but Steven Wadlow believes there is evidence to suggest that his portrait could be the one that was used.
The Droeshout Engraving from the first folio of Shakespeare's plays published in 1623
Shakespeare didn't have a beard
Watch this video to see the Wadlow portrait grow a beard.
We are so used to seeing William Shakespeare portrayed with a full beard that it comes as something of a surprise when it is pointed out that neither the Stratford bust nor the Droeshout engraving depict Shakespeare with that type of beard. The Droeshout engraving facial hair is almost identical to the Wadlow portrait with a small moustache and a tuft of hair under the lip. The bald head can be explained by the years that have passed between the two depictions. The Droeshout depicts an older man whereas the Wadlow sitter is only 31 and is already receding.
Is it possible that the Droeshout engraving is the same man as the Wadlow portrait, twenty years later? It is an intriguing prospect and the following pages will explain how this might be possible.