Designs from Fancy: George Romney's Shakespearean Drawings

By Yvonne Romney Dixon | Go to book overview

Conserving George Romney's Drawings at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Julie L. Biggs

It is fitting that the Folger Shakespeare Library's collection of drawings by George Romney is the most comprehensive of the artist's work devoted to Shakespearean subject matter. The collection can be divided into three categories: loose drawings; three sketchbooks in original bindings--Art Volumes c59, c60, and c61; and four volumes of drawings in nineteenth-century bindings--Art Volume c58, Art Flat b5, b6, and b7. All of these categories are represented in the current exhibition. In "Designs From Fancy," almost twenty percent of the 500 plus works-on-paper in the collection are displayed for the first time.

The Folger Library's holdings are intended for the consultation, restricted or otherwise, of its patrons, and ideally each item should be in sufficiently good condition to allow risk-free handling. Conservators must ask, can the artifact withstand handling, and, if not, how can it be appropriately treated or modified without compromising the integrity of the whole? Similar questions are raised prior to an exhibition installation. In addition we must consider the possible effects of displaying the chosen materials. How do we mount each artifact to maximize its visibility while ensuring it is protected for the duration of the exhibition?

George Romney used a handmade laid paper for most of the drawings in our collection, though some of his later works were executed on wove paper. Laid paper's texture corresponds to the grid pattern of the wire molds used in papermaking. The laid lines run across the paper and are intersected at intervals by chain lines. Wove paper, on the other hand, is untextured because it is produced on a mold made from a random, intersecting network of wires. Wove paper had a huge impact on the printing trade, and because its smooth surface guaranteed uniform renderings in graphite, inks, and colors, it became very popular with artists. As many as four hundred paper mills existed in England by the close of the eighteenth century, almost half of which were

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