Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Falstaff reviewing Recruits, 1760-65 

Francis Hayman (1708-76)

Falstaff reviewing Recruits, 1760-65, Francis Hayman
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Oil on canvas
18th Century
37 ½ x 55 ¾ inches 95.2 x 141.6cm
 
Provenance:
Private Collection, London
Exhibited:
Possibly one of the two versions of the subject exhibited at the Society of Artists 1761 (88) or 1765 (49)
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Hayman’s treatments of Falstaff reviewing recruits are perhaps among the most successful depictions of a theatrical scene in British painting. The tableau vibrates with the energy that he brought to his Vauxhall supper box scenes of games and dancing, and is filled with the humour and observation of his portraiture. Every figure is in motion and proclaims its own individuality. The painting depicts the episode from Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part II Act III Scene V in which Sir John Falstaff inspects the recruits mustered by Justice Robert Shallow and his cousin Silence. Falstaff sits in a chair surrounded by his cronies whilst Bardolph leads Bullcalf forward.

A comparison between the present painting and a version of the same composition in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, reveals numerous differences between the two paintings in their disposition of the figures. Despite a superficial similarity between the two paintings, not a single figure is reproduced from one to the other. In most cases the same physiognomy is shown for the individual characters, but each one has shifted position or pose. Most obviously Falstaff has turned in our painting to look at Bullcalf, who is further advanced towards him, the drinker behind his chair is now turned to lean over Falstaff’s shoulder and the young boy instead of leaning over the drum postures behind Falstaff’s chair with a sword, leaving the draped drum as a repoussoir device in the foreground. These changes are interesting, in showing the way in which Hayman conceives of such scenes as a dramatic actuality, in which the actors move in relation to one another and the scene progresses. No better illustration could be found of the way in which Hayman imbues his sitters and subjects with life.

This engagement with the subject is unsurprising when one considers Hayman’s close connection with the stage, and the fact that he had himself twice appeared at Covent Garden in 1744 as Poins in a production in which Falstaff was played by Garrick’s rival James Quin (1693 – 1766)1. A label on the verso of the Dublin picture states that Hayman shows Quin as Falstaff, and John Beard (1716? – 1791) as Justice Shallow. Quin’s portraits by William Hogarth (Tate Britain) and Thomas Gainsborough (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin) would make such an identification possible, and although Allen points out that by the date of this painting Quin had long retired from the stage2, it is far from impossible that Hayman would have wished to record what he saw as a ‘classic’ production, especially one with which he had himself been so closely involved.

1. Brian Allen. Francis Hayman. New Haven, 1987.p.118
2. ibid.
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