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Shakespeare Connected - Shakespeare and Literary Pilgrimage

12. Henry Wallis, ‘Staircase in Shakespeare’s Birthplace’ (c. 1847) SBT 2002-6.

In 1854, Henry Wallis (1830-1916) launched his career by exhibiting the original of this painting of the staircase in the Birthplace. The Birthplace was in the news, acquired ‘for the nation’ in 1847, and it is possible to read this painting as a meditation upon its confirmed cultural importance. Documentary in recording the dilapidated fabric of the building, the painting is in its understated way also about the anticipation of something less bound by time and space, a touch of the sacred, in keeping with the powerful discourse of pilgrimage that Stratford by this time routinely evoked. 


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Acquired by the then chairman of the London committee of the Royal Shakespearian Club, it caught the eye of his friend the painter Edwin Landseer, who altered the painting to express more extravagantly the promised encounter with Shakespeare.  His additions would include ‘[Shakespeare’s] dog waiting for him at the door, as to imply his own immediate neighbourhood; and objects so connecting themselves with his pursuits, and…pointing at the origin of familiar lines and fancies, as…to indicate and identify the Play with which his brain might have been busy at the time.’  Landseer’s alterations provide the intangible supplements biographical and literary now supplied by the Victorian tourist imagination to animate the space of the writer’s house museum.

View of Edwin Landseer, ‘Shakespeare’s House, Stratford-upon-Avon’ in-situ (c. 1867)


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Front view of Edwin Landseer, ‘Shakespeare’s House, Stratford-upon-Avon’ (c. 1867)