Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Extended Catalogue Entry
Percy Bysshe Shelley
by Amelia Curran
oil on canvas, 1819
23 1/2 in. x 18 3/4 in. (597 mm x 476 mm)
Bequeathed by the sitter's daughter-in-law, Jane, Lady Shelley, 1899
On display in Room 18 at the National Portrait Gallery
This portraitback to top
One of the few portraits of the poet, it was painted in Rome by the art student, Amelia Curran. Though begged from her by Mary Shelley after her husband's death, it was not much liked by his friends.
Related worksback to top
Linked publicationsback to top
- 100 Portraits, p. 61
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 101
- Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 82
- Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 55
- Motion, Andrew (edited), Interrupted Lives: In Literature, 2004, p. 22
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 561
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 127 Read entry
The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was among the most radical of the English Romantics. At nineteen, he was expelled from Oxford University for professing his atheism and was duly cut off by his father. His first major poem, Queen Mab (1813), promoted radical social change and denounced meat-eating and marriage. Yet Shelley married twice, the second time to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and later the author of Frankenstein (1818).
Perpetually on the run from their creditors, the Shelleys spent a brief spell on the Continent in 1816, staying with Lord Byron. It was there that Shelley signed himself (in Greek) as: ‘democrat, great lover of mankind, and atheist’, revealing his profound passion and ideology. In 1818, the couple travelled to Italy, where Shelley produced some of his best work, including ‘Ode to the West Wind’ (1819) and Adonais (1821), a meditation on Keats’s death.
Shelley drowned in a storm at sea off the Italian coast on his return from setting up the anti-establishment journal The Liberal with Byron and Leigh Hunt. Painted in Rome a few years earlier, this portrait by the art student Amelia Curran (1775–1847) is the only authentic likeness of the poet.
- Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 448
- Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 87
Events of 1819back to top
Current affairsPeterloo 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 sciencePercy 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.
InternationalThomas 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.