Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 11, 2007

'True' Image of the Bard Unveiled, Shakespeare Festival Launched

Lloyd Sullivan says his family has kept the secret of William Shakespeare’s true image under wraps for 400 years — and that’s long enough. Tonight, the Bard’s likeness was unveiled for all of Canada to see during a gala at the University of Guelph.

The Guelph introduction of the Sanders portrait — believed by many to be the only known picture of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime — also marked the start of the regional “Shakespeare — Made in Canada” festival. At the centre of the five-month extravaganza is a series of exhibits at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MSAC) with the Sanders portrait as the focal point. The exhibit, titled “Shakespeare — Made in Canada: Contemporary Canadian Adaptations in Theatre, Pop Media and Visual Arts, will continue through June 10.

The festival also includes theatre, music, dance, education programs and other art exhibits at venues throughout Guelph-Wellington. The landmark event is sponsored by the university, MSAC, the City of Guelph, the Stratford Festival and the Guelph Arts Council.

“The Sanders portrait may have been painted in England centuries ago, but it’s truly a Canadian treasure,” said president Alastair Summerlee during the festival opening.

“The Bard is out of hiding now, and today we are celebrating his arrival in Guelph and the opening of this magnificent exhibit that demonstrates how the world’s most produced playwright has influenced Canada’s artists, writers, actors and scholars and our evolving sense of ourselves as a nation.”

The “Shakespeare — Made in Canada” festival brings together more than 40 regional arts organizations that will host more than 100 events. This ensures that every week will be packed with shows, public lectures, musical performances and exhibitions either written or inspired by the world's most famous playwright, said organizer Sue Bennett, director of university and community relations.

Renowned actor William Hutt is serving as honorary patron of the festival and officially unveiled the Sanders portrait. Born in 1920, Hutt retired from the Stratford Festival in 2005 after taking part in 39 seasons there, stretching back to the Festival's inaugural performance in 1953. He has also appeared on stages in London, Toronto and New York.

Tonight’s launch was also attended by chancellor Lincoln Alexander, Guelph mayor Karen Farbridge and Sullivan, who travelled from Ottawa for the event, bringing along some 30 friends and relatives. Sullivan has spent nearly 20 years of his life researching the portrait.

“This is truly a wonderful day,” he said. “My goal has always been to answer the mystery, to reveal the truth about the Sanders portrait, and we have done that. Now, people can write about what Shakespeare looked like because my ancestors preserved him through this painting. It’s taken four centuries to get that to the surface.”

The portrait is thought to depict the Bard at age 39. Forensic tests conducted over a six-year period confirmed that the painting dates from around 1600, and it has not been altered since. It’s believed that Shakespeare sat for an ancestor of Sullivan’s, an unknown actor and painter called John Sanders, in 1603. The portrait has been held in the family ever since and at one time was stored under Sullivan’s grandmother’s bed.

Sullivan will give a talk on the Sanders portrait Friday at noon at MSAC. He will be joined by Guelph English professor Daniel Fischlin, co-curator of the MSAC exhibit, who was instrumental in bringing the portrait to Guelph. He also heads the Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project, which includes the largest and most complete website in the world dedicated to showing Shakespeare’s cultural influence.

Sullivan added that his goal is to have as many people as possible see the portrait, learn about its journey and history and understand the effort that went into authenticating it. “I want it to be a source of pride and joy for Canadians, to be a crowning jewel for the art community.”

MSAC is devoting 80 per cent of its gallery space to the Shakespeare exhibit, the largest show the centre has ever mounted, said director Judith Nasby, co-curator of the exhibition. “I think people will be amazed by the depth and diversity of the Bard’s influence,” she said. “We anticipate a number of repeat visits.”

The exhibits range from theatrical set designs and the 17th-century fascination with mathematics to native Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare and the francophone relationship with his plays. Changes in portraiture from Shakespeare's time to the present will be showcased, and the Donald Forster Sculpture Park will offer a unique audio installation that focuses on the continuing influence of the Bard's words. Other displays draw on the Stratford Festival's archives and the U of G Library's Canadian theatre archives. In addition, elementary and high school students will learn about the science behind authenticating portraits.

Saturday, Jan. 13, is “Family Day” at the MSAC exhibit. From 1 to 4 p.m. visitors can try on Stratford costumes, create Shakespearean masks, perform on stage, assemble anamorphic art, explore artwork forensics and participate in a scavenger hunt. U of G students will help guide families through the exhibit.

The theatrical, visual arts and multimedia display will remain at the art centre for six months. Many of the art and cultural materials have been borrowed from more than 100 individual and corporate collections. More information about the festival and a schedule of events is available online.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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