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Ted Hughes

© estate of Sylvia Plath / Faber & Faber Ltd

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Ted Hughes

by Sylvia Plath
pen and ink, circa 1957
8 3/8 in. x 5 1/8 in. (213 mm x 130 mm)
Purchased with help from Mrs T.S. Eliot, the Art Fund, and Roy Davids, 2005
Primary Collection
NPG 6739

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), Poet and writer. Artist of 1 portrait, Sitter in 4 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The only known drawing of Ted Hughes by his wife the writer Sylvia Plath, this evocative portrait was executed in pen and ink on a numbered sheet, presumably from one of the books used by Plath for her journal. It was made in about 1957, when Hughes began to gain critical recognition for his first collection of poems, Hawk in the Rain. It therefore depicts him at the moment of his emergence as a poet of the first rank, and in the year after Hughes's marriage to Plath. He preserved this image, having destroyed other personal paper belonging to their turbulent relationship which ended with Plath's suicide in 1963. Hughes later gave the drawing to Roy Davids, as documented by an inscription on the verso. The drawing may also therefore be seen as a vital document of an important and much debated literary relationship.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 120
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 221 Read entry

    Poet Laureate from 1984, Ted Hughes grew up in rural Yorkshire, and many of his best-known works, notably Crow (1970), reveal the violence inherent in the natural world. At the University of Cambridge, Hughes studied anthropology, immersing himself in the folklore of primitive societies, which contributed to his originality as a poet. He was awarded the Whitbread Award for Birthday Letters (1998), a collection of poems, composed over a quarter of a century, addressed to the American poet Sylvia Plath (1932–63), his first wife.

    Plath’s intimate portrait of Hughes, probably sketched on a page of her journal, was made a year into their marriage. Her husband’s career had been recently launched when he received the Galbraith Prize, Plath having typed, arranged and submitted Hughes’ collection Hawk in the Rain for the award, which it won to great acclaim. As a poet, Plath’s reputation is commensurate with Hughes’, and her work includes The Bell Jar (1963) and Ariel, published posthumously in 1965, following her suicide. Plath enjoyed drawing, commenting in 1956, during their honeymoon in Spain, ‘Every drawing has in my mind and heart a beautiful association of our sitting together in the hot sun, Ted reading, writing poems, or just talking with me.’

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1957back to top

Current affairs

Harold Macmillan takes over as Conservative prime minister, manoeuvring Eden out of power after his poor handling of the Suez Crisis the previous year.
The Wolfenden Report recommends that homosexuality should no longer be a criminal offence. It still took ten years, however, before any changes were made to the law on homosexuality with the Sexual Offences Act in 1967.

Art and science

The Today Programme is first broadcast on Radio 4. This early morning current affairs programme is known for breaking major stories early, and for its hard-hitting approach and touch interviewing style. Presenters have included: Robert Robinson, Brian Redhead, Libby Purves, Jenni Murray, Sue MacGregor, John Humphrys, Anna Ford and James Naughtie.

International

The Treaty of Rome leads to the formation of the European Economic Community. Officially beginning on 1st January 1958, the EEC established a European Common Market, where goods, services, labour and capital could move freely within the European member countries, and shared policies were agreed for labour, social welfare, agriculture, transport, and foreign trade. The EEC preceded the European Community, and the European Union.

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