55 Pall Mall now . . . and then
I HAVE occasionally wondered why 52 Pall Mall looks so different to its neighbours. The answer is Shakespeare isn’t there any more.
It was built by George Dance the Younger for John Boydell in 1788 as the Shakespeare Gallery (above, right and below) complete with a large statue of the Bard to house what Boydell hoped would be an array of Shakespeare-related paintings by great artists.
It succeeded for a while at a time when fashionable Pall Mall was a mixture of high-class residences, bookshops and bourgeois brothels. The building had 4,000 sq feet of floor space spread between a long exhibition hall on the ground and several rooms on the first floor.
Boydell’s bold venture eventually failed, mainly because he was unable to commission enough high quality paintings to satisfy critics and the public so the building was sold off first by lottery in 1805 and later at a Christies auction.
The statue, by Thomas Banks showed Shakespeare between representations of the Dramatic Muse and the Genius of Painting. Underneath was an inscription from Hamlet: “He was a Man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again”.
No one in Pall Mall looked upon his like again as the Banks statue was removed in 1869 when the building – by then occupied by the British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom (1805-1867) – was demolished. It was re-erected at the far end of Shakespeare’s garden at New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon where it still resides (below, left).