- Extended Catalogue Entry
by Benjamin Robert Haydon
oil on canvas, 1842
49 in. x 39 in. (1245 mm x 991 mm)
Bequeathed by John Fisher Wordsworth, 1920
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.'
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- 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 affairsEdwin 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 scienceMudie'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'.