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Last Updated: Friday, 22 April, 2005, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Shakespeare portrait 'is a fake'
The Flower Portrait
The Flower Portrait bears the inscription 1609
The mystery surrounding a famous portrait of William Shakespeare has been solved, say experts.

Historians have disagreed about the origins of The Flower Portrait, which bears the inscription 1609.

Not everyone has been convinced that the portrait, owned by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), was painted during the playwright's lifetime.

Now National Portrait Gallery experts in London confirm it is a fake which dates back to the early 19th century.

RSC donation

BBC Two's The Culture Show was given unique access to an investigation by the National Portait Gallery and revealed their findings on Thursday.

Scientific analysis shows that pigment embedded deep into the painting comes from that period.

The image, which is painted on top of a 16th century portrait of Madonna and child, was named after owner Sir Desmond Flower, who donated it to the RSC.

Some said it was painted in a later style while others strongly believed it was a lifetime portrait
Dr Tarnya Cooper

It is one of three paintings being examined ahead of next year's Searching for Shakespeare exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

The Chandos Portrait and the Grafton Portrait, the other two most well-known images of Shakespeare, are also being studied.

The Flower Portrait was analysed for four months using a combination of x-rays, ultraviolet examination, paint sampling and microphotography.

Notoriety achieved

The gallery's 16th century curator Dr Tarnya Cooper said the image could be found on the cover of a number of Shakespeare editions found in book shops.

She said: "It achieved notoriety over the years.

"Some said it was painted in a later style while others strongly believed it was a lifetime portrait."

Chrome yellow paint, dating from around 1814, had been found embedded in the portrait.

William Shakespeare, Droeshout Engraving
The Droeshout Engraving was for the first edition of collected works

"We now think the portrait dates back to around 1818 to 1840, exactly the time when there was a resurgence of interest in Shakespeare's plays," she added.

The image bears a strong resemblance to the Droeshout Engraving, which accompanied the first folio of Shakespeare's works.

RSC curator David Howells said the portrait gave "great insight" into the rebirth of interest in Shakespeare in the 19th century.

"Now we know the truth we can put the image in its proper context in the history of Shakespearean portraiture, alongside the other fascinating pieces in our collection in Stratford," he said.

The portrait was lent to the RSC after it came to public notice in 1892.

When the man who was lending out the portrait died, the local Flower family purchased it and donated it to the RSC.

Searching for Shakespeare will commemorate the National Portrait Gallery's 150th anniversary.

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