Henry William Bunbury Folio of Shakespeare Engravings (1978)
Henry William Bunbury (1750–1811) was an English caricaturist, and his caricatures are as famous as those of his contemporaries Thomas Rowlandson, Paul Sandby, John Collett, and James Gillray, good examples being his Country Club (1788), Barber's Shop (1803) and A Long Story (1782). H.W.B was a social caricaturist, never political, nor did he want to offend the nobles whom he befriended.
In these illustrations, we can see H.W.B.’s grossly and comically exaggerated renditions of Shakespeare’s characters, with touches of wit, like the faces of tragedy and comedy in the scene from The Taming of the Shrew, and these illustrations are H.W.B.’s tribute to the Georgian stage. These drawings were so full of meritorious details that Thomas Macklin, one of the great publisher-engravers, proposed to publish prints of the drawings, with the intention to counter those Shakespearean scenes published by his competitor, John Boydell. Under the patronage of the Duke and Duchess of York, Macklin published H.W.B.’s works.
Originally, Macklin suggested to publish 48 of these plates over a period of eighteen months at a cost estimated to be over £41 for a set of hand-coloured plates. But Macklin’s plan was interrupted the war with France (or The War of the First Coalition, 1792–1797): the first plate was published in 1792; the last, 1796. It is likely that not all were printed because the war almost put a halt on the print trade—even George Stubbs was forced to rescind the order of 150 commissioned horse portraits to produce only 17. On 18 August 1795, the Telegraph recorded that the trade of print-sellers, including that of Macklin and Boydell, was suspended. H.W.B.’s Shakespeare illustrations were produced in a milieu of great duress, affecting even the upper echelons of the society, printers and patrons alike.
A Folio of Shakespeare Engravings; taken from the Drawings by Henry William Bunbury was published by The Ariel Press Ltd London in 1978 and limited to 500 copies. These copies are now hard to come by. The copy we have here is a test printing, unnumbered, and it contains 8 of the stated 20 plates, affecting the price to the buyer’s advantage. The folio is sizable (22” by 19”); the title letters, William Shakespeare’s signature, and the spine are gilt. There is no foxing and, although incomplete, the drawings are in perfect conditions, like new, and for all that, still rare.
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