COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR (1772-1834, poet, critic and philosopher) PORTRAIT BY CHARLES ROBERT LESLIE (1794-1859),
Lot 36
(1772-1834, poet, critic and philosopher)
Sold for £ 31,200 (US$ 41,456) inc. premium

Lot Details
COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR (1772-1834, poet, critic and philosopher)
pencil, charcoal and chalk on blue/grey paper, head and shoulders, aged 46 years, his eyes raised upwards, inscribed by Leslie ‘Mr Coleridge sat for me for this sketch about 1820’, 12 x 10½ in (30.5 x 26.7 cm), a label on the reverse records the gift of William Fowler.


  • PROVENANCE: Charles Robert Leslie; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Derwent Coleridge (1800-1883, second son of the poet); E.H. Coleridge (1846-1920, son of Derwent Coleridge); G.H.B. Coleridge; A.H.B. Coleridge – according to Paley. A label on the back of the frame shows that the portrait left the family for some time: ‘Pencil drawing of S.T. Coleridge by C.R. Leslie R.A. circ. 1822 presented to E.H.C. by William Fowler M.P.’ A stencil number on the verso indicates that it was sold at Christie’s on 10 May 1878 (lot 103) as the property of John Heugh of Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, when it was bought by Fowler.

    ENGRAVED AND REPRODUCED: H. Meyer, New Monthly Magazine, 1 April 1819, in reverse, subject looking to the viewer’s right; R. Cooper, Literary Speculum, 1822; unknown engraver, 1832; James Hopwood, 1825; unknown engraver (New York Public Library); E.H. Coleridge, The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1912 (a photogravure by Emery Walker from the original in the possession of E.H. Coleridge as frontispiece); The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by E.H. Coleridge, 1912; Collected Letters, edited by E.L. Griggs, frontispiece, 1956-1971 volume V. It is also reproduced in the two most important recent biographies of Coleridge: Rosemary Ashton, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1996 and Richard Holmes, Coleridge, 1998.

    REFERENCES: Morton D. Paley, Portraits of Coleridge, 2001; Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, 1985; C.R. Leslie, Autobiographical Recollections, edited by Tom Taylor, 1978; Collected Letters, edited by E.L. Griggs, 6 volumes, 1956-1971.

    This portrait is the one Coleridge himself most consistently liked and considered the best. It remains one of the very few portraits of the poet not in a public institution. It was in his own possession and remained (with one break) in the Coleridge family until very recently. It was drawn ad vivam, thereby capturing the sitter directly. It was done by a skilled portraitist and reverential disciple for his own (the artist’s) benefit.

    The occasion in 1818 for the portrait was not a formal commission, but a visit by Leslie to Coleridge along with the artist’s fellow-American and teacher Washington Allston (1779-1843). Allston was delivering a painting by William Collins of Coleridge’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Sara. Despite being ill at the time, Coleridge agreed to Leslie’s request that he sit for him and afterwards, in November of that year, he wrote to Charlotte Brent: ‘…ill and anxious as I was Lesly (sic) contrived to take a head of me which appears to be the most striking Likeness ever taken – perhaps because I did not sit for it. It was for himself.’ It shares with Phillips’s portrait of Blake (see Phillips’s Blake engraved by Schiavonetti, lot 13 in this catalogue,) the uplifted gaze of the poet, ‘animated by immediate eloquence’ [STC] and is the only portrait of Coleridge really to capture him as the visionary poet and seer to the satisfaction of the sitter.

    Fifteen years later, in 1833, Coleridge confirmed his lasting admiration for the portrait in a letter to Francis Finden, praising it in terms that meant more to him than anything else; 'in point of something like expression the best (our italics), taken off hand, some fifteen years ago, by Mr Lesley.'

    Coleridge’s continuing pleasure with the likeness must be seen in the light of his otherwise notoriously critical attitude towards his own appearance and of artists’ attempts to capture it. Thirty years before the present portrait he had summed up his sense of the shortcomings of his features: ‘…to me, my face, unless when animated by immediate eloquence, expresses great Sloth, & great, indeed almost ideotic good nature. ‘Tis a mere carcase of a face: fat, flabby and expressive chiefly of inexpression…I cannot breathe through my nose – so my mouth with its sensual, thick lips is almost always open…’ In 1819 he was to criticise Thomas Phillips’s portrait of him: ‘In its present state the eyes appear too large and too globose – and the colour must be made lighter – and I thought that the face, exclusive of the forehead was stronger, more energetic than mine seems to be when I catch it in the Glass, and therefore the Forehead and the Brow less so – not in themselves, but in consequence of the proportion.’ His daughter Sara added: ‘That by Phillips has his social look, but very little of his intellect. It is a gentlemanly picture.’

    Leslie did not disguise his admiration for Coleridge. He recorded his feelings in his Autobiographical Reflections: ‘His eloquence threw a new and beautiful light on most subjects, and when he was beyond my comprehension, the melody of his voice, and the impressiveness of his manner held me as a willing listener, and I was flattered at being supposed capable of understanding him. Indeed, men far advanced beyond myself in education might have felt as children in his presence.' He went on to record a rare privilege: 'It was in company with Coleridge that I first heard the nightingale, that is to know that I had heard it.' The effect Coleridge was capable of having on people was fulsomely captured by Leslie in a later passage; ‘I really do not know which most to admire, the goodness of his heart or the soundness of his head. He is a man of the most exquisite feelings, which give a cast of melancholy to his character always visible in his countenance, excepting when he is carried away by sprightly conversation. He has greater colloquial talents than I have ever before met with, and with the most consummate eloquence, possessing all the graces of conversation, he exhibits on every subject the deepest philosophical thinking.’

    Leslie’s likeness was, according to Paley, engraved more often than any other portrait of Coleridge in his lifetime, beginning with Coleridge’s own participation in securing it for the New Monthly Magazine on 1 March 1819 when he wrote to Leslie: ‘Mr Coburn has entreated my influence with you to have intrusted to him for a week or ten days your last drawing of my phiz to have it engraved for his Magazine. I replied that I have no objection, & thought it probable that you would have none, and have consequently given him this note.’ It was duly published on 1 April 1819. It has continued to be reproduced in many biographies and other works including those edited by members of the Coleridge family (see list above). It was a principal source for Hamo Thornycroft’s bust of Coleridge for Westminster Abbey, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1884.

    NOTES: (i) Leslie had made an earlier portrait of Coleridge in 1816, now known only from a replica. It was self-evidently a failure – Sara Coleridge for instance condemning it as ‘ugly but not uninteresting.’ It is reproduced by Paley p.61; (ii) Coleridge had contributed a poem on ‘The Nightingale’ to the Lyrical Ballads in 1798, which was later to inspire Keats’s more famous poem on the same subject.
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