William Wordsworth

© National Portrait Gallery, London

4 Likes voting
is closed

Thanks for Liking

Please Like other favourites!
If they inspire you please support our work.

Buy a print Buy a greetings card Make a donation Close

William Wordsworth

by Benjamin Robert Haydon
oil on canvas, 1842
49 in. x 39 in. (1245 mm x 991 mm)
Bequeathed by John Fisher Wordsworth, 1920
Primary Collection
NPG 1857

On display in Room 17 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), History painter and diarist. Artist or producer associated with 34 portraits, Sitter in 10 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait depicts Wordsworth aged seventy-two. It was painted to commemorate a sonnet that he had composed on climbing the peak of Helvellyn, after seeing Haydon's picture of Wellington musing on the Battlefield of Waterloo. Wordsworth was pleased with Haydon's heroic image, describing it as 'a likeness of me, not a mere matter-of-fact portrait, but one of a poetical character.'

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 49
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 33 Read entry

    Wordsworth said it was ‘a likeness of me, not a mere matter-of-fact portrait, but one of a poetical character’. The product of Haydon’s gratitude for a poem by Wordsworth, the portrait was the subject of a further poetic appreciation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 85
  • Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 57
  • Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 42
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 27
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 184
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 125
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 125 Read entry

    Benjamin Robert Haydon was a long-standing friend of Wordsworth, having first met him in 1814 and then kept up a lively correspondence, as well as undertaking a number of drawings of him. Indeed it was Haydon who introduced Wordsworth to Keats at a dinner party in December 1817. In 1840, towards the end of Wordsworth's life, Haydon sent him an engraving of his picture of Wellington musing on the Battlefield of Waterloo. Wordsworth composed a sonnet on it, 'By Art's Bold Privelege', while he was climbing Helvellyn, one of the mountains near his house in Grasmere in the Lake District. This inspired Haydon to undertake a portrait of Wordsworth on Helvellyn, for which Wordsworth sat on three occasions in June 1842. He described the result as 'a likeness of me, not a mere matter-of-fact portrait, but one of a poetical character'. It shows him with arms crossed, in meditative pose, with the mountains beyond, and fixed forever the image of the Romantic poet as an elderly sage.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 678
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 129 Read entry

    William Wordsworth dedicated his life to poetry, becoming the leading British writer of his age. His Lyrical Ballads (1798), published with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is a landmark in British Romanticism and heralded a new type of poetry that dealt with feeling and imagination, and which in Wordsworth’s hands was characterised by an exploration of humanity’s relationship with nature. In 1799 Wordsworth settled in Grasmere in the Lake District. Here, he composed the ‘Lucy’ poems, about an idealised and tragic English girl who died young. He also wrote two other major works, his autobiographical poem The Prelude (1850) and The Excursion (1814), a philosophical epic. His contribution to poetry was recognised in 1843, when he was made Poet Laureate.

    Wordsworth had a long association with the artist Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786–1846), who made a life mask of the poet in 1815 and subsequently produced many sketches of him. This portrait was probably inspired by a sonnet that Wordsworth sent to Haydon in 1840, which he said was actually composed while he was climbing Helvellyn mountain. This followed Wordsworth’s usual practice of composing while he walked; thus Haydon depicts him as the archetypal brooding Romantic hero, lost in thought and overtaken by the cataclysmic power of nature.

  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 575
  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 59

Events of 1842back to top

Current affairs

Edwin Chadwick publishes his damning report, Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Poor, which details the shocking living conditions of the urban poor and prompts government to take a new interest in public health issues.
A year-long depression and the rejection of the Chartist petition leads to riots, with workers striking in the Midlands, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and parts of Scotland.

Art and science

Mudie's Lending Library opens, becoming one of the largest circulating libraries in the period. Made popular by the otherwise high cost of books, it exerts a great influence over literature; both by maintaining the more costly 'three decker' novel structure, and acting as moral censor.
Richard Owen, the English biologist, comparative anatomist and palaeontologist, coins the term 'dinosaur', combining the Greek words for 'formidable' and 'reptile'.


Treaty of Nanjing, which allows China to trade with Britain and lends Hong Kong to the British crown for 150 years. In Afghanistan, the Anglo-Afghan war ends as the British abandon Kabul, withdrawing to India and losing most of their garrison force in the operation with only one member, Dr William Brydon, surviving.

Tell us more back to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. You can buy a print of most illustrated portraits. Select the portrait of interest to you, then look out for a Buy a Print button. Prices start at £6 for unframed prints, £25 for framed prints. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

Fiona Sampson

03 April 2019, 12:39

You should mention Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet, 'Sonnet on Mr Haydon's Portrait of Mr Wordsworth', published in UK and US periodicals and (under amended title) in her 'Poems' (1844) after the portrait was lent to her by the artist in October 1842. Influential alongside her critical prose also published in The Athenaeum (periodical), in rehabilitating Wordsworth's poetic reputation - and next year he was offered the Poet Laureateship.

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.


How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.