John Keats

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Keats

by Joseph Severn
oil on canvas, 1821-1823
22 1/4 in. x 16 1/2 in. (565 mm x 419 mm)
Given by S. Smith Travers, 1859
Primary Collection
NPG 58

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

Severn, who had nursed his friend in Rome, described the circumstances recreated in this posthumous portrait: 'This was the time he first fell ill & had written the Ode to the Nightingale on the morning of my visit to Hampstead. I found him sitting with the two chairs as I have painted him & was struck with the first real symptoms of sadness in Keats so finely expressed in that poem.'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 60
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 54
  • Edited by Lucy Peltz & Louise Stewart, Love Stories: Art, Passion & Tragedy, 2020, p. 59
  • Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 112
  • Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 94
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 24,59
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 162
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 113
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 113 Read entry

    Joseph Severn was a minor artist, distinguished only by the fact that he was a close friend of Keats, whose portrait he painted on many occasions. Indeed, Keats died in Joseph Severn's arms. When the picture was acquired by the NPG, Severn described how it came to be painted: 'After the death of Keats the impression was so painfull on my mind, that I made an effort to call up the last pleasant remembrance in this picture which is posthumous. This was at the time he first fell ill & had written the Ode to the Nightingale (1819) on the mor[ning] of my visit to Hampstead. I found him sitting with the two chairs as I have painted him & I was struck with the first real symptom of sadness in Keats so finely expressed in that Poem.'

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 346
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 128 Read entry

    John Keats was one of the greatest Romantic poets although, in his short career, he had little impact beyond his circle of friends. His first volume of poetry, published in 1816, was followed by Endymion (1818), which was mercilessly attacked by reviewers. Inspired by a walking tour of the Lake District and Scotland in 1818, Keats composed the poems for which he is best known, including ‘To Autumn’ and ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’, which were published a year before his untimely death.

    This posthumous portrait is one of several painted by Keats’s close friend Joseph Severn (1793–1879). He has imagined the poet at home in Hampstead on the morning he wrote his famous meditation on mortality, ‘Ode to the Nightingale’ (1819). Severn had told George Scharf (22 December 1859) that he: ‘found him sitting with the two chairs as I have painted him & was struck with the first real symptom of sadness in Keats so finely expressed in that Poem … After this time he lost his cheerfulness & I never saw him like himself again.’ Tragically, the poet’s health worsened and he died of consumption in Severn’s arms in Rome, aged only twenty-five.

  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 290
  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 91

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Events of 1821back to top

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