HUGHES, TED (1930-1998, poet, O.M.) PORTRAIT BY SYLVIA PLATH (1932-1963),
Lot 73
HUGHES, TED, (1930-1998, poet, Poet Laureate, O.M.) PORTRAIT BY SYLVIA PLATH (1932-1963),
Sold for £27,600 (US$ 45,804) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
HUGHES, TED, (1930-1998, poet, Poet Laureate, O.M.)
PORTRAIT BY SYLVIA PLATH (1932-1963),
pen and ink, half-length, showing him writing, later inscribed by the sitter 'Portrait of me, made by Sylvia Plath, circa 1957, Ted Hughes', the number 17 stamped in the upper right-hand corner, paper faintly lined, 8¼ x 5 in (21 x 12.7 cm).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE: Gift of the sitter.

    EXHIBITED: Cheltenham Literary Festival, Faces and Places, 1982; British Library Millennium Exhibition Chapter & Verse: 1000 years of English Literature, 2000; reproduced in The Epic Poise: A Celebration of Ted Hughes, edited by Nick Gammage, 1999.

    An extraordinary literary and artistic conjunction, drawn by Sylvia Plath at the time of Ted Hughes’s first great creative achievement, Hawk in the Rain. It is inscribed by him on the verso for the collector. It is believed to be the only known portrait of Ted Hughes by Sylvia Plath, one of the most iconic women poets of the twentieth century. Their partnership in marriage and literature has acquired a mythic status.

    Ted Hughes also recalled verbally that the portrait was drawn in Cambridge (he and Sylvia, recently married, lived at 55 Eltisley Avenue there from October 1956 to May 1957) and that he was sitting writing while it was done. This places the portrait just at the time when his first collection, Hawk in the Rain, won the Harper first publication contest, judged by Auden, Spender and Marianne Moore. Sylvia Plath had typed up the poems and submitted them for the competition, something he would probably not have got round to doing himself. The book burst like a thunderbolt onto the literary scene, breaking the mould of British poetry. Elaine Feinstein was later to write: ‘the whole urbane tone of the Movement [was]…jettisoned, as if Hughes had found some mainline access to far earlier roots of the language.’ (Ted Hughes, 2001).

    In a letter to her mother on 26 August 1956, when in Spain, Sylvia Plath mentioned her own sketching, though not stating that she was then drawing him: '...went about with Ted doing detailed pen-and-ink sketches while he sat at my side and read, wrote, or just meditated. He loves to go with me while I sketch and is very pleased with my drawings and sudden return to sketching. Wait till you see these few of Benidorm – the best I’ve done in my life, very heavy stylized shading and lines; very difficult subjects, too; the peasant market…a composition of three sardine boats on the bay…and a good one of the cliff-headland with the houses over the sea.’ (Letters Home, edited by A.S. Plath, 1975, p. 267). On 23 October the same year, back in Cambridge, she reflected on the significance of sketching and of those Spanish sketches to her: ‘Every drawing has in my mind and heart a beautiful association of our sitting together in the hot sun, Ted reading, writing poems, or just talking with me…The sketches are very important to me…send them to Mrs Prouty, please; show her how creative Ted’s made me…’

    In his widely acclaimed Birthday Letters, his great hommage to her, published in the year of his death, Ted Hughes included a poem entitled ‘Drawing’, about Sylvia sketching in Spain in 1956, clearly from the same inspiration as her remarks:

    Drawing calmed you. Your poker infernal pen
    Was like a branding iron. Objects
    Suffered into their new presence tortured
    Into final position. As you drew
    I felt released, calm. Time opened
    When you drew the market at Benidorm.
    I sat near you, scribbling something
    Hours burned away…

    The page on which this portrait is drawn is almost certainly from one of the Challenger Triplicate Books that Sylvia Plath sometimes used for her journal, like one of two that Karen Kukil describes in her edition of the Journals of Sylvia Plath (pp. 700-702): for instance - ’70 leaves…Each leaf is stamped with a number in black ink…Many leaves are missing. SP used this copybook to record descriptions, creative writing ideas, poems, reading notes and drawings.’
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