Circle of Charles Hayter (British, 1761-1835) A portrait of a young Gentleman, generally accepted as John Keats (1795-1821), wearing black double-breasted coat and waistcoat, white frilled chemise, stock and tie

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Lot 136* Y
Circle of Charles Hayter
(British, 1761-1835)
A portrait of a young Gentleman, generally accepted as John Keats (1795-1821), wearing black double-breasted coat and waistcoat, white frilled chemise, stock and tie

£ 10,000 - 15,000
US$ 14,000 - 20,000
From a Deceased Estate Circle of Charles Hayter (British, 1761-1835)
A portrait of a young Gentleman, generally accepted as John Keats (1795-1821), wearing black double-breasted coat and waistcoat, white frilled chemise, stock and tie.
Gold frame, the reverse glazed to reveal sprays of dark blonde hair decorated with split seed pearls and gilt-wire, set on opalescent glass, the lower rim engraved John Keats 1795-1821, red leather traveling case.
Oval, 70mm (2 3/4in) high (3)


  • Provenance:
    Joseph Roe (1860-1931) of 56 Knightsbridge
    Purchased by Arthur G. Tite of 30 Burlington Arcade
    Earle Vonard Weller (1890-1994)
    Private Collection, North America; thence by descent

    Earle Vonard Weller; Autobiography of John Keats: Compiled from His Letters and Essays, Stanford University Press, 1933, p.359, ill.frontispiece (a copy to be sold with the present lot)
    Donald Parson; Portraits of Keats, The World Publishing Co., Cleveland, 1954, pp.125-8,

    The 'discoverer' of the present lot, the American, Earle Vonard Weller (1890-1994), was the son of one of the founders of Occidental College in Los Angeles and the author of a number of publications on a variety of subjects, including John Keats, Mary Tighe, Herbert Rothschild and California. An avid collector of works by the English Romantic poets, Weller amassed a collection that is now housed at Occidental College Library, consisting of over 2000 volumes in addition to other artefacts relating to Keats and his circle. At a date, prior to 1931, he purchased the present lot in London via his agent, the portrait miniature dealer Arthur G. Tite, who procured the miniature for him from Joseph Roe, a second generation antique dealer based in Knightsbridge. In a letter to C. K. Adams of the National Portrait Gallery, London, dated 4th April 1934, Weller writes "Mr Arthur G. Tite bought this [the miniature] from a well known London dealer, Mr Joseph Roe, since deceased. Mr Tite stated that he had made enquiries through the executors of the Estate but was unable to trace the source of Mr Roe's Purchase".

    In his Autobiography of John Keats, Weller writes "Said to have been owned by Hunt, it [the miniature] was hidden for scores of years in a small art and antique shop in London" (see fig. 1). He goes on to suggest that the portrait was the same that fellow poet James Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) took with him when he went to join Lord Byron in Italy in 1821. With no evidence to support this idea, or indeed the fact that it had been owned by Hunt at all, these suggestions can be disregarded as 'flights of fancy' by an excited collector. Similarly his assumption that the hair on the reverse of the frame was Keats' can be looked upon as wishful thinking. The style of the frame is typical of English miniatures from the late Georgian period by which time the hair device on the reverse of the frame had become more of a decorative motif, than a way of showing the true colour of the sitter's hair, as had been the case in the 18th Century when sitters had powdered hair or wigs.

    The appearance of the present lot in Weller's publication of 1933 with no information regarding its previous whereabouts has led Keats' researchers over the years to debate whether the portrait does indeed portray the poet; and if so, whether it was painted during his life, therefore making it an important addition to his limited lifetime iconography.

    It is hard to deny that the present lot shows a number of features described by Keats' contemporaries, namely, the centre-parted wavy auburn / light brown hair; strong prominent nose; and mouth with slightly overhanging top lip. The slightly twisted nostrils are an exact match for Keats' nose in Benjamin Robert Haydon's life-mask of 1816, while the hair and eyebrows are a good match for the pencil sketch of Keats, drawn during the summer of 1819, by Charles Brown. (see R. Walker, Regency Portraits, vol II, ill.pls.672 and 680). Detractors of the present portrait state that it does not have the intense look that Keats is recorded as having had, however, this is also the case with the most famous portrait of Keats, a portrait miniature by Joseph Severn painted in 1818. Indeed it is only really in the 1816 sketches by Severn and Haydon that this intensity is captured, perhaps saying more about the difficulty of catching a sitter's personality in a miniature given the lengthy process of producing a portrait on ivory.

    The most vocal disbeliever of the identification of the present portrait as Keats is Donald Parson, who, in his 1954 publication Portraits of Keats, consigns the present lot to a chapter titled 'Debatable Portraits' and goes on to say that the "features bear scant resemblance to those of the life mask". However, in his review, published in the Keats-Shelley Journal of 1955, Willard B. Pope attacks Parson's book as simply "an attempt to prove that a portrait of an unknown man by an unknown artist is actually John Keats by George Henry Harlow" (see Willard B. Pope, Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol.4 (Winter 1955), Keats-Shelley Association of America Inc., pp.104-106. He goes on to criticise Parson's inconsistency over debatable portraits, in that some he treats thus and others he accepts as genuine portraits when neither have concrete evidence to their authenticity. Given this scathing review and that his 'Harlow portrait of Keats' has been rejected on both counts, Parson's opinion perhaps holds little weight.

    If one accepts, as the majority do, that the present lot does indeed depict John Keats, then the next question is 'was it painted from life, or does it derive from any of the portraits that form the iconography of the poet?' There is certainly no obvious single prototype amongst the portraits by Severn, Haydon, Brown, Hilton that are all acknowledged as being painted from life. One could possibly argue that it is a posthumous portrait, combining different features from a number of the aforementioned works. Given the painting technique and manner in which the ivory has been prepared, there is no question as to whether the present lot physically dates to the early 19th Century. The idea, then, of an amalgamated portrait would seem a somewhat unusual approach for an artist wanting to produce a 'memorial' portrait in the years immediately following Keats' death. The only occasion where this would seem a possibility would be if one were painting a portrait decades later that you wished to pass off as a period original and this simply isn't the case given the material age of the present lot. It is therefore plausible that if the present lot does depict John Keats then it was painted during his lifetime.

    The present lot was previously attributed to the miniaturist Charles Hayter. Whilst the overall 'look' of the portrait does suggest a work by Hayter (see fig. 2), closer examination shows variations from his typical technique. Critically, Hayter's autographed works show an almost impasto application of paint, particularly in his grey backgrounds. Looking at the artists in his circle, whom he influenced, one must start with his three children, all of whom followed their father into artistic careers. Of, George (1792-1871), Anne (active 1814-1830) and John (1800-1895), both George and John can be connected to Keats' circle; George painted a miniature of the future Lady Byron in 1812 and John drew a portrait of Keats' close friend James Henry Leigh Hunt circa 1828. These connections make it possible that George or John could have met and therefore painted Keats. Given the present lot suggests a date of around 1815-1819, John would have been aged 15-19, while George would have been 23-27. The present lot gives the impression of a work by an immature hand, therefore making John, who entered the Royal Academy schools in 1815 the more likely candidate of the two. Although there is no record of him having produced any miniatures like his brother and sister, it is highly likely that he too experimented with the medium under the influence of his father's style, making him possibly responsible for the present lot.

    In death, John Keats came to be regarded as one of the key figures of the second generation of romantic poets alongside Byron and Shelley. His origin as the eldest of five children born to Thomas Keats (c.1773–1804) and Frances Jennings (1775–1810) at 'The Swan and Hoop' livery stable added to his romantic image.

    His early desires to become a poet eclipsed his ambition of becoming a medical practitioner despite having passed his exams at Guy's Hospital in 1816. By February 1819 Keats had completed and published 'The Eve of St Agnes', now considered one of his greatest poems. During the spring of that same year, Keats produced 'Ode to Psyche', 'Ode to a Nightingale', and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' in quick succession. It is likely that these poems were written during Keats' stay at Wentworth Place in Hampstead, where he lived next to his nineteen year old fiancé, Fanny Brawne - a match of which her mother and Keats' inner circle disapproved. Keats wrote many of the poems for which he is best known soon after meeting Fanny and it is undoubtedly the case that his relationship with her significantly influenced his 1819 sonnet, 'Bright Star'.

    Keats' declining health had reached a critical point by early 1820. During the summer of that year, painfully aware that he would likely die from tuberculosis, as his mother and brother had before him, Keats asked Fanny to release him from their engagement. His jealous passion for Fanny Brawne subsequently became a torture of frustrated desire and thwarted hopes. He saw her for the last time on 13 September 1820 and refused to write to her or read her letters henceforth.

    With the approval of his doctor, Keats travelled to Italy with the painter, Joseph Severn, with whom he had become acquainted during his years at medical school. The two men reached Naples at the end of October and by mid-November took lodgings in Rome on the Piazza di Spagna. Keats' health continued to deteriorate and on the evening of 23 February 1821 he passed away. Severn, a faithful friend until the end, had Keats buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, inscribing his gravestone with an epitaph that Keats had devised: 'Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water'.

    Richard Monckton Milnes's retrospective collection of his writings 'Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats', published in 1848, cemented Keats' legacy and greatly influenced the Pre-Raphaelites amongst others. His early death, and the obscurity in which he died has nourished a tendency to idealize Keats, who for many epitomizes a popular conception of the Romantic poet, yearning for escape from the pain and banality of everyday life into a world absorbed by the imagination.

    We are grateful to Leslie Morris, Curator of the Harvard Keats Collection and to Professor Nicholas Roe, Chair of the Keats Foundation and Professor of English Literature at the University of St Andrews for their assistance in researching this work.
Circle of Charles Hayter (British, 1761-1835) A portrait of a young Gentleman, generally accepted as John Keats (1795-1821), wearing black double-breasted coat and waistcoat, white frilled chemise, stock and tie
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