John Keats

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Keats

by Joseph Severn
oil on ivory, 1819
4 1/4 in. x 3 1/8 in. (108 mm x 79 mm)
Given by executors of Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, Bt, 1919
Primary Collection
NPG 1605

Sitterback to top

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

Artistback to top

  • Joseph Severn (1793-1879), Painter and Civil Servant. Artist or producer associated with 14 portraits, Sitter associated with 3 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This haunting portrait of John Keats was painted by his friend Joseph Severn. It presents Keats as an isolated, poetic genius. The portrait was painted while Keats was writing his Odes and just before the onset of his fatal illness. The first version of this portrait was a watercolour miniature that Severn gave to the poet's fiancée, Fanny Brawne, even though Keats was against the gift.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 28
  • Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 20
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 77
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 346
  • Walker, Richard, Miniatures: 300 Years of the English Miniature, 1998, p. 97 Read entry

    There are two versions of this miniature, both by Joseph Severn: the original watercolour given by Keats to his beloved Fanny Brawne (1800-65) and now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and this oil copy, made for Keats's friend the publisher Edward Moxon (1801-58), and now in the National Portrait Gallery. The first version, framed with a lock of Keats's hair, was painted in 1818 or 1819 when the poet was living with his brothers in Hampstead. Severn was by no means an inspired artist and his portraits convey little of that ethereal spirit that produced the odes 'On a Grecian Urn' and 'To a Nightingale', but he was a staunch friend, accompanied the doomed Keats to Italy, nursed him through the last stages of tuberculosis, and made the poignant sepia wash drawing of Keats's head on his deathbed pillow: '28 January 3 o'clock morning - Drawn to keep me awake' (Keats House, Hampstead, London).

  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 288

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1819back to top

Current affairs

Peterloo Massacre leaves eleven dead and four hundred wounded as crowds, gathered to hear radical Henry Hunt call for reform of the House of Commons, are forcibly dispersed.
Six Acts are passed, stiffening the 1795 Treason Act and introducing a tax on the periodical press which was viewed as seditious.

Art and science

Percy Bysshe Shelley writes Ode to the West Wind during a year of extraordinary creativity in which he also finishes Prometheus Unbound.
Lord Byron publishes his tour-de-force Don Juan; one man's mock-epic odyssey through a world without fixed principles.
First ship with a steam engine crosses the Atlantic in twenty-eight days.


Thomas Jefferson establishes the University of Virginia.
Royal Navy anti-slave squadron is set up to patrol the West African coastline.
French physician Rene Laennac invents the stethoscope.

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