KEATS, JOHN (1795-1821, poet) PORTRAIT BY JOSEPH SEVERN (1793-1879),
Lot 85
KEATS, JOHN (1795-1821, poet) PORTRAIT BY JOSEPH SEVERN (1793-1879),
Sold for £21,600 (US$ 34,997) inc. premium

Lot Details
KEATS, JOHN (1795-1821, poet)
PORTRAIT BY JOSEPH SEVERN (1793-1879),
oil on canvas, full-length, seated between two chairs at Wentworth Place on the morning of writing the 'Ode to a Nightingale', with his left hand to the top of his head and an open book on his knee, signed and dated lower left, containing a lock of Keats's hair in a small window in the frame, 23 x 17 in (55.9 x 43.2 cm).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE: By direct descent from the first recipient of the portrait, John Hunter.

    REFERENCES: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, 1985; Robert Woof and Stephen Hebron, Romantic Icons, 1999; Sheila Birkenhead, Illustrious Friends: The Story of Joseph Severn and his Son Arthur, 1965; William Sharp, Life and Letters of Joseph Severn, 1892.

    This is a later version of one of the most famous portraits of Keats by his close friend, Joseph Severn, who looked after him in his final days in Rome and was buried in the same churchyard. The original version is in The National Portrait Gallery and measures 22¼ x 16½ in; a copy is listed in Regency Portraits as being in a private collection in London (perhaps the present version); other copies are by or after Linnell and Dyer.

    After Keats's death Severn made a number of portraits of the poet from memory, that in the National Portrait Gallery being dated from Rome in [autumn] 1821, though it may not have been finished until 1823. Later Severn wrote: 'after the death of Keats the impression was so painfull on my mind that I made an effort to call up the most pleasant remembrance in this picture which is posthumous. This was the time he first fell ill & had written the Ode to the Nightingale (1819) on the mor[ning] of my visit to Hampstead. I found him sitting with the two chairs as I have painted him & was struck with the first real symptoms of sadness in Keats so finely expressed in the Poem. (The room, the open window, the carpet and chairs are all exact portraits, even to the mezzotint portrait of Shakespeare given him by his old landlady in the Isle of Wight. After this time he lost his cheerfulness & I never saw him like himself again).'

    Severn's present, 1834, version of his portrait is derived from John Hunter (1801-1869), who graduated MA at the age of fifteen, was later a Writer to the Signet and friend of Leigh Hunt and Thomas Carlyle, and was always a voracious and wide-ranging reader. He acted as private agent to his uncle by marriage Francis, Lord Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review. When Jeffrey died in 1850 Hunter took over the tenancy of Craigcrook Castle, which Jeffrey had occupied since 1815.

    A direct descendant of Hunter, Helen Watt, gives the provenance of the portrait in her John Hunter: Forgotten Tenant of Craigcrook, published by The University of Edinburgh Extra-Mural Association, n.d., p. 76:

    'An interesting reminder of the influence he [Hunter] exerted in literary matters, is a picture of Keats, now in the possession of the writer of this article, which was presented to John Hunter by Keats' relatives after his death. It is an oil painting, a copy of the Severn portrait, and contains a lock of the poet's hair in the frame. It was given to Hunter in gratitude for persuading Francis Jeffrey [initially no favourer of Keats's work] to write a kinder review of Keats' last poem than any other critics had done. The Edinburgh Review reached Keats as he lay dying in Rome and did much to cheer his last days.' The lock of hair is still present in a small window cut into the frame.
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