'My name is Pistol called’: William Mollison, George Henry and the challenge of theatre portraiture

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


Paper delivered at the Interdisciplinary.Net 4th Global Converence "Visual Aspects of Performance Practice". Mansfield College, Oxford

Abstract: In 1901, discussing the performance of the actor William Mollison in the role of “Ancient” Pistol in Mollison and Lewis Waller’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, The Stage remarked; “…no one could get more thoroughly into the skin of the part than does Mr Mollison.” The comment, intended as a flattering appraisal of the actor’s talent could also be considered as an observation on the role of psychology and naturalism in acting then very much in vogue at the turn of the century. George Henry’s 1905 portrait of the actor in character is a curious and challenging work; one which explores and highlights the problematical nature and intention of theatre portraiture. A successful portrait will capture a physical likeness along with a sense of identity and character whilst simultaneously revealing something of the painter’s own time and interests. Theatre portraiture has a further integral purpose – that is how to depict the dual aspect of character and player. The problem for the theatre portrait painter, therefore, is complicated. Fundamentally Henry’s painting is a portrait depicting three figures; a physical likeness of the actor, a likeness of the imaginary character and personality of Pistol, and finally, and arguably the most complex, a depiction which confidently blends the likeness of the actor and the temperament of the character whilst recognising both individual elements in the central figure. It is, essentially, a portrait of Mollison as Pistol—a portrait that straddles both the real, physical environment of the actor on stage and the fictive otherworld of performance, by-play and imagination. This presentation will explore Henry’s portrait of Mollison in reference to these issues and the traditions of theatre portraiture whilst simultaneously considering the late 19th century interest in the psychology of acting.
Period18 Sept 2013
Event title'My name is Pistol called’: William Mollison, George Henry and the challenge of theatre portraiture
Event typeOther