Shakespeare portrait sale has major U of G connection
GUELPH – After a massive investigation involving many layers of scientific analysis, intricate genealogical mapping, and stacks of scholarly evidence, a University of Guelph researcher has concluded that the so-called Sanders portrait is as close to a genuine likeness of William Shakespeare there is.
“I’m convinced that of all the images out there, it absolutely has the most evidence and is the most credible painting,” said Daniel Fischlin, a professor in the school of English and theatre studies, and head of U of G’s Canada Adaptations of Shakespeare Project. “There is not a single other image out there that is even close to this level of evidence.”
He, along with U of G president Alastair Summerlee, have long championed the authenticity of the portrait, owned by Canadian Lloyd Sullivan, and supported research into its origins. Both appeared to play pivotal roles in the recent sale of the painting, which was reported Monday by the Globe and Mail.
“It’s the first portrait of Shakespeare to sell,” Fischlin said. “It’s really the first image of Shakespeare, with this level of evidence, to sell, and it’s happening here in Canada. It’s incredible.”
For the past several months, Fischlin has engaged in tireless research, including making a trip to England to firm up evidence that the portrait is the real thing. Lloyd Sullivan’s lineage has been traced back to John Sanders, a great grandfather 13 generations removed, who was among Shakespeare’s “most intimate associates,” Fischlin said.
Fischlin became friends with Sullivan some years ago and agreed to find hard evidence that the portrait dates back to Shakespeare’s time. Sullivan, now in his 80s, is frail, and has been working for several years, and spent close to a $1 million, trying to authenticate it and find a home for it in a public institution.
The Globe and Mail reported Monday that a buyer has been found for the portrait, and that an unspecified, but significant, amount of money is being paid for it. The portrait was painted in 1603, 13 years before Shakespeare’s death. The Globe reported that Summerlee was instrumental in finding a buyer for it.
“It’s a big story, with many years of work coming together,” said Fischlin in an interview Monday. He would only state its value as “zero to priceless.” He confirmed that there is a buyer, but said he was not privy to the selling price.
“It’s been a big push over the last four or five months,” said Fischlin, a tone of exhaustion in his voice. “Part of it was the situation for the owner of the portrait, who is elderly, and it would not have been good for either him or this portrait should he have died in this process.”
A number of tax implications and legacy issues swarmed around the portrait. Given Sullivan’s effort to safeguard and authenticate the portrait, it would only be right for him to benefit from the sale, while achieving the aim of finding it a permanent, public home, Fischlin indicated.
“It became really apparent to us in the last six months or so that we really had to make push come to shove, and bring out the evidence in a coherent space that brought together the experts who have done their due diligence,” Fischlin said.
The Globe and Mail reported that there has been mounting evidence that the portrait is the only existing likeness of Shakespeare done during the playwright’s lifetime. The university recently hosted a symposium in Toronto on the painting in which genealogy, costumery, provenance, history and forensics experts attested to its authenticity, the Globe reported.
The symposium, Fischlin said, was an opportunity to bring all the principals together to publicly disclose all of the evidence.
Some years ago, Fischlin asked the portrait’s owner if he could use an image of it as the splash page of his website. Since then, the scholar has been invested in the life, investigation and fate of the portrait.
“In August, I went over to England for a bunch of weeks to do due diligence, and this was part of Alastair Summerlee wanting me to have a hard look at the evidence,” Fischlin said.
He added that while in Britain he travelled to virtually every spot the Sanders family had lived and uncovered a great deal of new evidence related to the family
Sullivan, who has owned the portrait for 40 years, told the Globe and Mail that the sale of the portrait has not yet been finalized, and expressed anxiety about the portrait leaving the country if the sale doesn’t go through. But, he indicated he was happy to be nearing a conclusion after years of investigation into the portrait’s authenticity.
December 16, 2013