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John Keats

2 of 15 portraits of John Keats

John Keats, by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1816 - NPG 3251 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

John Keats

by Benjamin Robert Haydon
pen and ink, 1816
12 1/2 in. x 8 in. (318 mm x 203 mm)
Purchased, 1945
Primary Collection
NPG 3251

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Sitterback to top

  • John Keats (1795-1821), Poet. Sitter in 15 portraits, Artist associated with 2 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), History painter and diarist. Artist associated with 34 portraits, Sitter in 10 portraits.

This portraitback to top

John Keats was introduced to Benjamin Robert Haydon in 1816 when the poet was still a medical student and virtually unknown. Theirs was an immediate and intense friendship which lasted until Keats's death in 1821. Haydon, who nurtured ambitions of becoming a great history painter, made these sketches of the poet's profile for possible inclusion in his large scale work, Christ's Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. They were drawn on the back of pages from the artist's diary during an evening the friends spent together in November 1816. The inscription along the bottom in praise of Keats was added by Haydon after the poet's death. The lines, including those deleted, read, 'Keats was a spirit that in passing over the Earth came within its attraction (and fell on it, against its will! and spent like a....bird, he worried himself) and expired in fruitless struggles (to regain his former height) to make its dull inhabitants comprehend the beauty of his soarings'. The inscription along the bottom in praise of Keats was added by Haydon after the poet's death.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 90
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 346
  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 287

Events of 1816back to top

Current affairs

Marriage of Princess Charlotte to Leopold I. Income Tax abolished. Unsuccessful Spa Fields Riot led by the ultra-radical Arthur Thistlewood which aimed to attack the Tower of London and the Bank of England and set up a ruling 'Committee of Public Safety' following the French model.

Art and science

Jane Austen publishes Emma. Leeds and Liverpool Canal completed.


British Government buys the Elgin Marbles, taken from the Acropolis in Athens by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, and brought to England between 1803 and 1812. Their acquisition prompts support from Thomas Lawrence and Benjamin Robert Haydon and condemnation from Lord Byron. Slave rebellion fails in Barbados; four hundred slaves are executed.

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