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William Wordsworth

16 of 108 portraits by Henry William Pickersgill

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William Wordsworth

by and after Henry William Pickersgill
oil on canvas, circa 1850
85 1/2 in. x 52 1/2 in. (2172 mm x 1334 mm)
Purchased, 1860
Primary Collection
NPG 104

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This painting was an unusual addition to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection when it was purchased in 1860. This is because it was painted posthumously, and the Gallery’s preference has always been for portraits made from life. Pickersgill likely began the painting shortly after Wordsworth’s death (1850), as it was ready for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1851. He relied upon a much earlier portrait of Wordsworth that he had undertaken for St John’s College Cambridge, which the poet had attended from 1787 to 1791. Changing very little in the portrait except the dress, Pickersgill replaced the academic gown with a black suit, neckcloth and bow-tie. Sara Coleridge, who had known Wordsworth very well, complained when she first saw the painting at the Academy that the “velvet waistcoat [and] neat shiny boots” were “just the sort of dress he would not have worn”.
Much later in 1920, a generous bequest from John Fisher Wordsworth enabled the Gallery to acquire Benjamin Robert Haydon’s portrait of Wordsworth brooding on Helvellyn, which was painted from life.

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Current affairs

Cardinal Wiseman, a Catholic priest who had exerted a strong influence on the Oxford movement, is made a Cardinal and leader of the Catholic church in England, thus restoring Roman Catholic hierarchy in England.

Art and science

Death of poet laureate William Wordsworth; his great autobiographical poem The Prelude is published posthumously, famously charting the growth of the poet's mind.
Tennyson's In Memoriam is also published. A poignant record of his grief over the death of his friend Arthur Hallam, the poem also movingly questions the strength of faith in an increasingly scientific age.

International

Up to 50,000 pioneers travel west in wagons on the Oregon trail in the United States, one of the main overland migration routes across the continent. Spanning over half the continent, the trail led 2,170 miles through territories and land which would later become six US states, including Kansas, Wyoming and Oregon, helping the US to implement its goal of Manifest Destiny - building a nation spanning the North American continent.

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