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Regency Portraits Catalogue

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), Poet

Harry Buxton Forman prepared some notes on 'The Portraits of Shelley' in about 1915; his son deposited the MS in the NPG library in 1934. Kingsley Adams's revised list 1934 is also in the NPG library. Newman White's 'The Portraits and Busts of Shelley' forms a useful if prolix appendix to his biography, pp 518-38. Examinations of individual portraits have been made by Mrs N. P. Dunn, Sylva Norman and Winifred Gérin. A sensitive analysis was made by Sir David Piper in his Clark Lecture, 'The End of Fame: Tennyson and After'.

Miniature by the Duc de Montpensier in the Bodleian Library, probably drawn when Shelley was a schoolboy at Brentford and the three sons of 'Egalité' were living in exile at Twickenham. It belonged later to the 'Ladies of Llangollen', Sir John Shelley of Avington, and finally came to the Bodleian in 1964. A miniature copy by Reginald Easton c.1885 is also in the Bodleian, bequeathed by Lady Shelley in 1894. A lithograph by Edwin Beyerhans was published in 1869 and another by Stodart in 1879; the NPG impression of the Stodart, acquired at the Edward Cheney sale in 1885 is inscribed by Cheney himself: 'Engraved from a miniature by the Duc de Montpensier and given by him to the Ladies of Llangollen at whose sale I bought it. - E.C.'. The Montpensier miniature, in fact a drawing, is discussed by Mrs Winifred Gérin in the Keats-Shelley Memorial Bulletin, XVI, 1965, pp 1-11 and reproduced there.

Drawing in undergraduate's gown at Oxford, location unknown. 'De Quincey says, that he remembers seeing in London, a little Indian ink sketch of him in his academic costume of Oxford. The sketch tallying pretty well with a verbal description which he had heard of him in some company, viz, that he looked like an elegant and slender flower whose head drooped from being surcharged with rain' (T. Medwin, Life of Shelley, 1847, p 109).

A drawing or miniature by E. E. Williams is mentioned by both Medwin and Trelawny. Medwin says: 'it is to him that we are indebted for the only resemblance of Shelley that exists. It was not a very happy miniature but I should conceive no one so difficult to pourtray ...' (T. Medwin, Life of Shelley, 1847, II, p 119). Trelawny mentions it in his preface: '... in 1821 or 1822, his friend Williams made a spirited watercolour drawing which gave a very good idea of the poet ... it has been lost …' (Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron, 1858, p viii). Mrs Prudentia Lonsdale (Williams's daughter) declared in letters to the NPG of 2 May and 1 June 1887 that the NPG copy (NPG 1271) was painted by Clint from Miss Curran's oil and a drawing from life by Captain Williams (letters in NPG archive). Three extant drawings purport to be by Williams:
(1) in Pierpont Morgan Library, watercolour half-length to right leaning on an anchor, inscribed on the back: R Hancock fecit/Clifton; this belonged at one time to H. Buxton Forman who believed in its authenticity but sold it to Stetson, the American hat manufacturer. Reproduced in Newman Ivey White, Shelley, 1947, I, frontispiece (in colour) and in Claire Tomalin, Shelley And His World, 1980, p 104.
(2) in private collection, pencil head and shoulders to left inscribed: P Shelley/sketched from life/by E E Williams/Pisa/Novr 27/1821. This was believed to have belonged to William Whitton, the Shelleys' solicitor, and later to Richard Garnett and the American publisher George Plympton. C. K. Adams and Mrs Nickalls (Garnett's granddaughter) believed it a fake. Reproduced Newman Ivey White, Shelley, 1947, p 524 and Claire Tomalin, Shelley And His World, 1980, p 110.
(3) in private collection, on reverse of the drawing above, two pencil heads in profile to left and back view, inscribed: Percy Bysshe Shelley/a sketch from life/by his friend, Capt Williams/Pisa, Nov 27 1821; below this is a pasted-on paper with Mary Shelley's name and address; reproduced Newman Ivey White, Shelley, 1947, p 524.
The Williams drawing (if it still exists) is important in view of both Trelawny's and Prudentia's statements that it was used by Clint to 'improve' the Curran portrait. However there is no mention of it in Williams's diary, rescued from the sunk Don Juan and now in the British Library; he records every meeting with Shelley and mention of a drawing is certainly to be expected.

Portrait by 'Signor Delicati' mentioned in Claire's Journal, April 1819.

Oil by Amelia Curran (NPG 1234).

Crayon drawing by 'Mr Tomkins' is mentioned in Mary Shelley's Journal for 7 and 9 January 1820 and was remembered by Tomkins's daughter in Australia in 1884 (Edward Dowden, Life of Shelley, 1886, II, p 312).

Silhouette by Marianne Leigh Hunt known from an engraving by S. Freeman published by Ackermann, 6 October 1826. A copy is in the Keats-Shelley Memorial, Rome, but there is no certainty of the date of the original cutting; it may have been cut in July 1822 or shortly after his death, or possibly even from memory in answer to repeated pleas from Mary Shelley in 1826.

Doubtful and spurious
A drawing by the American artist W. E. West, believed to have been made at the Villa Rossa, Monte Nero, in the presence of Byron June 1822, is now in Keats House Hampstead, but almost certainly represents Leigh Hunt. It belonged to West’s niece, Mrs Adnella Bryant, who firmly believed in its authenticity, her faith resting on West’s reminiscences imparted verbally to his nephew in old age. Her case was put forward by Mrs N. P. Dunn in ‘Unknown Pictures of Shelley’, Century Magazine, October 1905, pp 909-17. There is no early documentary evidence for this portrait’s being Shelley and the confusion with Leigh Hunt may have arisen in West’s mind late in life while dictating the inscription to his nephew. The theory is demolished by Newman Ivey White, Shelley, 1947, pp 530-8 where the drawing is illustrated.

A drawing by Leigh Hunt’s son, Thornton, on the end fly-leaf of Leigh Hunt’s copy of Letters of Pope and Several Eminent Persons, 1735 is interesting but rather far-fetched (see The Times, 9 September 1930, pp 15-16).

Imaginary and posthumous
Sophia Stacey believed a close resemblance to Shelley could be found in the bust of Lucius Caesar in Naples (Helen Rossetti Angeli, Shelley and his Friends in Italy, 1911, p 101 and Edmund Blunden, Shelley, 1946, p 216). Thomas Love Peacock, Shelley’s executor, believed that a portrait of the 17th century Austrian artist, Johan Anton Eismann (Leisman), in the Reale Galleria Florence, was a closer likeness to Shelley than all other portraits which ‘do not impress themselves on me as likenesses. They seem to want the true outline of Shelley’s features and above all to want their true expression’ (Fraser’s magazine, LVII, June 1858, p 649).

As with Byron and Keats, Shelly-worship prospered throughout the century. Mary Shelley fostered his memory by trying to improve the unsatisfactory Curran portrait. Mrs Leigh Hunt produced the bust from memory in 1836 and is believed to have cut silhouettes, though the burly erect silhouette reproduced by Mrs Neville Jackson (History of Silhouettes, 1911, XIV) surely cannot represent Shelley. Joseph Severn in 1845 produced his ‘one frail form’ evocation of Shelley in the Baths of Caracalla, now in the Keats-Shelley Memorial, Rome. William Bell Scott, besides etching the Eton bust, painted a view of Shelley’s well-tended grave in Rome, June 1873, now in the Ashmolean Museum and exhibited ‘Italian Art’, RA, 1960 (239).

Apart from the more plausible bust by Mrs Leigh Hunt at Eton, a number of travesties were perpetrated beginning with W. W. Story’s plaster made of 1852-3 in the Keats-Shelley Memorial. A marble made in Rome in the 1860s is also at Eton. A marble signed with the monogram: SSW Rome 1870 was offered to the NPG in 1936. A plaster by A. L. Vaze of 1880 is in Keats House, Hampstead. A bronze by Amelia Hill dated 1882 was sold Phillips 20 November 1979 (117). A fantastic monument by H. Weekes, exhibited RA 1853 (1346), is in the Priory Church, Christchurch, Dorset. And the final reduction ad absurdum by Onslow Ford, exhibited RA 1892 (2002), reclines in University College, Oxford, a prey to undergraduate exuberance.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.