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Portrait of Bankside playwright John Fletcher saved for nation

The only known portrait from life of John Fletcher - a Jacobean playwright who lived on Bankside - is to be purchased by the National Portrait Gallery after a successful public appeal.

John Fletcher (1579-1625), c.1620 by an unknown En
John Fletcher (1579-1625), c.1620 by an unknown English artist. Clarendon Collection

John Fletcher was one of the most successful playwrights of the Jacobean period. Fletcher, who worked closely with fellow Southwark resident William Shakespeare, was born in 1579 and started collaborating with Shakespeare in about 1611.

One joint play was Henry VIII which is set across the river in Blackfriars and features Southwark's Paris Garden. They also worked together on The Two Noble Kinsmen and the lost play Cardenio which is based on Cervantes' Don Quixote.

Fletcher lived close to the Globe Theatre in Park Street sharing his home with fellow playwright Francis Beaumont. Indeed, according to John Aubrey, they also shared clothes and even a woman.

In August 1625 John Fletcher was buried near Shakespeare's brother Edmund in the church we now know as Southwark Cathedral.

The portrait was on offer for 218,000, a substantially reduced price following tax remission. Following a 50,000 grant from The Art Fund which kick-started the appeal last November, the gallery raised the total in time for the appeal deadline of 20 January, it was announced this week.

"Fletcher may not be quite as famous as Shakespeare and Jonson, but like them he played a major part in the astonishing burst of creativity that lit up the English stage in the early 17th century," says David Barrie, director of The Art Fund.

"The Art Fund is both proud and pleased to have got the National Portrait Gallery's campaign to acquire it off to a flying start."

Among the donations in a public appeal was 2,700 raised through a raffle organised by Fletcher's House Tea Rooms in Rye, Sussex, the property where the poet, a vicar's son, was born in 1579.

The portrait – which featured in the NPG's 2006 exhibition Searching for Shakespeare – shows Fletcher as a prosperous and well-dressed man with paper and pens, the tools of his trade.

The portrait of Fletcher will continue to be shown in the NPG's Jacobean Galleries until the end of February and later in the year the gallery will hang it as part of a special display celebrating the extraordinary achievement of writers of the period and the gallery's exceptional group of early literary portraits.

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