Canadian Shakespeare News

Controversial Shakespeare Portrait Coming to U of G

Will be Focus of Shakespeare — Made in Canada Festival

There is growing evidence that a Canadian man, who happens to be a friend and supporter of U of G, may own the only portrait of William Shakespeare painted while he was alive. That painting is coming to Guelph next year and will be the focus of the region’s Shakespeare — Made in Canada Festival.

Known as the Sanders portrait, the painting is thought to depict the Bard at age 39 and is owned by Ottawa resident Lloyd Sullivan. It’s also the signature image of U of G’s Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project, which is headed by English Prof. Daniel Fischlin and includes the largest and most complete website in the world dedicated to showing the playwright’s cultural influence on Canada. Fischlin’s research team has been working closely with Sullivan on the Canadian side of the portrait’s history.

The Sanders portrait was also the subject of the 2001 book Shakespeare’s Face and is used by the Stratford Festival of Canada.

The painting will be coming to U of G for a special exhibition at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre from January to May 2007. In celebration, the University, Stratford Festival, Guelph Arts Council and City of Guelph are teaming up to host a series of regional Shakespeare events that will be held for the duration of the exhibit.
The Shakespeare — Made in Canada festival will include theatrical and musical performances, an exhibition, a speakers’ series and educational programs. The festival will be launched locally May 25 with a special Shakespeare-inspired concert by U of G professor (see related story on page ).

The goal of the festival is to create a regional cultural synergy focusing specifically on Canadian interpretations, adaptations and exhibitions of the work of Shakespeare. It will involve local and regional arts and cultural organizations, local businesses, and elementary, secondary and university students and teachers.
“We hope to provide opportunities to increase awareness of our regional cultural excellence and to create a dynamic and appealing program of events that will attract audiences from within and outside of the community,” says Sue Bennett, the University’s special projects manager.

The Sanders portrait is coming to Guelph thanks to Fischlin. He and his research team travelled across the country to schools, libraries and even people’s basements and attics to uncover original Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare. Fischlin contacted Sullivan and obtained the rights to use the image of the controversial Sanders portrait. “We’re delighted that a rare combination of humanities research, community involvement, University initiative and private support (exemplified in Lloyd Sullivan’s contributions to our project) will culminate in a unique series of events and an even more unique museum exhibit hosted at the University” says Fischlin.

Sullivan inherited the painting from his mother in 1972. It’s believed that Shakespeare sat for an ancestor of Sullivan’s, an unknown actor and painter called John Sanders, in 1603. The portrait was held in the family for 400 years, and at one time was stored under Sullivan’s grandmother’s bed. The portrait has been confirmed by six years of painstaking forensic studies to date from around 1600, and it has not been altered since.

Fischlin is working with Sullivan and others to develop a screenplay based on how the painting was discovered and authenticated, and the controversy it ignited around the world.

Before coming to Guelph, the Sanders portrait will be part of “Searching for Shakespeare,” an international exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery in London that will tour North America during the summer and fall of 2007. The Sanders portrait will join the National Portrait Gallery’s famous Chandos painting and four other early “contender” portraits purporting to represent Shakespeare. It is the first time the portraits have been displayed together. The exhibition will also present the results of new technical analysis and research on several of these pictures

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