About the Art Collection
The Collection has been brought together mainly by gift and bequest, with the first presentation made as early as November 1831; appropriately a small copy of the “Chandos” portrait of Shakespeare attributed to Francis Hayman.
The largest portion of the collection (349 paintings and drawings) originated with the actor Charles Mathews, an original member of the Club who had a passion for collecting theatrical portraits; he exhibited them at a gallery in the grounds of his home, Ivy Cottage, in Highgate, North London. Mathews secured a large number of pictures from the collection of Thomas Harris, who had been manager of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, which included paintings by the likes of Johan Zoffany, Thomas Lawrence, George Clint and Gainsborough Dupont. He was also a prolific commissioner and a major patron of the theatrical specialist Samuel de Wilde.
Mathews had hoped to sell the collection to the Club and it appears that lengthy negotiations were entered into without any result. It was eventually purchased by a wealthy member and donated to the Club, having already hung on its walls for several years. The collection has continued to grow and has become the pre-eminent collection of British theatrical portraits in the world. As well as the paintings and drawings, there is also sculpture, theatrical ephemera and thousands of engravings and photographs.
Published catalogues of the primary collections are available, the most recent being Pictures in the Garrick Club by Geoffrey Ashton (edited by Kalman A Burnim & Andrew Wilton) 1997, The Richard Bebb Collection in the Garrick Club by Kalman A Burnim & Andrew Wilton 2001, and Brief Lives: Sitters and Artists in the Garrick Club Collection by Kalman A Burnim & John Baskett 2003. These records have been migrated to the online catalogue and will be joined by all further cataloguing as it becomes available.