A man of note: The artwork behind William Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet's £20 note

By Culture24 Reporter | 25 April 2016

A new Bank of England Museum exhibition revisits the beautiful artwork of the Shakespeare £20 series D note issued in 1970 - and remembers designer Harry Eccleston six years after his death

A photo showing an engraving of William Shakespeare on a 20 pound Bank of England note
© Courtesy Bank of England Museum
In 1967, the talented etcher Harry Norman Eccleston was given a new position at the Bank of England. Having spent nine years as an artistic designer, his role – which he would remain in for more than 15 years – saw him create a crisp £20 version of William Shakespeare.

A photo showing an engraving of William Shakespeare on a 20 pound Bank of England note
© Courtesy Bank of England Museum
It would be something of an understatement to suggest that the design work on the note, initially issued in July 1970, was intricate. The reverse vignette, designed by Eccleston, was a master drawing of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, contained in pocket depiction.

A photo showing an engraving of William Shakespeare on a 20 pound Bank of England note
© Courtesy Bank of England Museum
Eccleston undertook extensive research in fashioning the first new-look £20 note since the Second World War. His attention to detail was probably fuelled by the prospect of Shakespeare becoming the person outside of the Royal family (and Britannia) to appear on a banknote.

A photo showing an engraving of William Shakespeare on a 20 pound Bank of England note
© Courtesy Bank of England Museum
This version of Shakespeare is based upon the statue which stands as a memorial in Westminster Abbey, designed by William Kent. It was intended as a romantic image to match the adjacent Romeo and Juliet on the note.

  • Eccleston’s Shakespeare is at the Bank of England Museum, London until October 21 2016.

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