The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery was a three-part project initiated in November 1786 by engraver and publisher John Boydell in an effort to foster a school of British history painting. Boydell planned to focus on an illustrated edition of William Shakespeare's plays and a folio of prints, but during the 1790s the London gallery that showed the original paintings emerged as the project's most popular element. Boydell decided to publish a grand illustrated edition of Shakespeare's plays that would showcase the talents of British painters and engravers. He chose the noted scholar and Shakespeare editor George Steevens to oversee the edition, which was released between 1791 and 1803. The press reported weekly on the building of Boydell's gallery, designed by George Dance the Younger, on a site in Pall Mall. Boydell commissioned works from famous painters of the day, such as Joshua Reynolds, and the folio of engravings proved the enterprise's most lasting legacy. However, the long delay in publishing the prints and the illustrated edition prompted criticism. Because they were hurried, and many illustrations had to be done by lesser artists, the final products of Boydell's venture were judged to be disappointing. The project caused the Boydell firm to become insolvent, and they were forced to sell the gallery at a lottery.
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For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and a lack of sincerity toward myself. --Henri Matisse