John Donne Appeal
by Unknown English artist
Following the launch of the John Donne Appeal in January this year with support from The Art Fund, the Gallery has just received a significant grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) to acquire an exceptional portrait of the acclaimed metaphysical poet John Donne (1572 - 1631). As the most significant and well-known portrait of the poet, this painting is of outstanding national importance. The Gallery has a limited period to acquire this extraordinary picture that has remained in one private collection since Donne's death.
John Donne was one of the most talented writers of his age and his work, which encompassed poetry, verse letters, essays and sermons, including such famous poems as The Bait, The Flea and A Valediction: forbidding Mourning, came to be widely celebrated. In 1615 he was ordained as a minister of the Church of England and later became the Dean of St Paul's, London.
This portrait shows Donne as a young man dressed in a black floppy hat and open collar, playing the role of a melancholic lover. The poet is shown emerging from the shadows and an original Latin inscription translates as 'O Lady Lighten our darkness.' It seems the picture was probably painted for a lover or conceived of as part of a campaign to conquer a reluctant heart. For Donne, the mid 1590s was a period of intense creativity when he wrote many of his most celebrated love poems.
The picture can be traced in John Donne's will where it is described as 'that picture of mine which is taken in shadows and was made very many years before I was of this profession [i.e. a minister]'.
The portrait is on offer to the National Portrait Gallery by private treaty sale through Sotheby's from the executors of the estate of the late Marquis of Lothian. Following tax remissions the total amount the National Portrait Gallery must raise by the end of June is £1,400,000.
The National Portrait Gallery is also extremely grateful to the executors of the estate of the late Lord Lothian for agreeing, through Sotheby's, to reduce the price of the portrait.