Sylvia Plath

© Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation; Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation

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Sylvia Plath

by Rollie McKenna
bromide print, 1959
7 1/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (181 mm x 150 mm) image size
Given by Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation, 2011
Primary Collection
NPG P1679

Sitterback to top

  • Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), Poet and writer. Sitter in 5 portraits, Artist or producer of 1 portrait.

Artistback to top

  • Rollie McKenna (1918-2003), Photographer. Artist or producer of 63 portraits.

This portraitback to top

McKenna's photograph of Plath, taken shortly before Plath and Hughes returned to live in England, has become one of the defining images of the poet. Texas-born McKenna who described her approach as 'free-wheeling portraiture' was inspired to become a literary photographer after meeting the American writer John Malcolm Brinnin in 1950. Their collaborations included The Modern Poets: An American-British Anthology (1963).

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 7145: 'Work in Progress' (based on same portrait)

Linked publicationsback to top

Events of 1959back to top

Current affairs

Harold Macmillan wins the general election with an increased majority, returning to office as Conservative prime minister. The victory was the result of perceived economic improvement under the Conservative government, and his (misquoted) boast: 'you've never had it so good.' During his premiership he earned the nickname 'Supermac', coined by cartoonist, Victor 'Vicky' Weisz.

Art and science

Claudia Jones organises the first West Indian-style carnival in the country, starting the tradition of the annual Notting Hill carnival. The event was a response to the race riots of 1958, and an attempt to celebrate West Indian culture and help overcome racial prejudice by giving the whole community the opportunity to join in the event.


Fidel Castro becomes leader of Cuba. After defeating the American-backed Batista government, Castro's revolutionary army arrived in Havana on 8th January where Castro proclaimed himself Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Within a month, Prime Minister José Miró Cardona had resigned, and Castro took over.
In Tibet, an uprising against Chinese rule is brutally crushed, and the Dalai Lama flees to India, beginning his long exile.

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