First Previous 1 OF 3 NextLast

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

1 of 3 portraits by Washington Allston

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by Washington Allston, 1814 -NPG 184 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

by Washington Allston
45 in. x 34 1/2 in. (1143 mm x 876 mm)
NPG 184

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated lower right: W Allston 1814.

This portraitback to top

Coleridge and Allston had met and become firm friends in Rome where Allston's first portrait of the poet was painted but left unfinished because of Coleridge's return home in 1806 (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University). They met again in 1811 in London and again in 1813 in Bristol where the NPG portrait was commissioned by a Bristol merchant, Josiah Wade. 'The portrait was painted at Mr Wade's residence whilst S T Coleridge and W Alston [sic] were on a visit to him, therefore no letters passed on the subject. My brother Fulke Tovey Barnard was present when the Portrait was finished and lent his penknife to Mr Alston with which he scratched his name in the right hand corner …' (letter from George Barnard 18 July 1864 in NPG archive).
Coleridge was non-committal: 'Of my own portrait I am no judge - Allston is highly gratified with it ... I am not mortified, tho' I own I should better like it to be otherwise, that my face is not a manly or representable Face - Whatever is impressive is part fugitive part existent only in that the imaginations of persons impressed strongly with my conversation. The face itself is a FEEBLE, unmanly face ..., the exceeding weakness, strengthlessness, in my face, was ever painful to me - not as my own face - but as a face ... On Wednesday Allston is to finish my face - & he will require two Sittings after that - I trust Thursday and Saturday …' (letter to J. J. Morgan 16 August 1814).
Allston himself wrote to Professor Henry Reed of Philadelphia: 'so far as I can judge of my own production, the likeness is a true one, but it is Coleridge in repose, and though not unstirred by the perpetual ground swell of his ever-working intellect, and shadowing forth something of the deep philosopher, it is not Coleridge in his highest mood, the poetic state. When in that state, no face I ever saw was like to his: it seemed almost spirit made visible, without a shadow of the (?) world upon it. Could I have then fixed it upon canvas! but it was beyond the reach of my art' (Barnard's prospectus for the mezzotint).
Wordsworth said, 'it is the only likeness of the great original that ever gave me the least pleasure' (letter to John Peace 12 December 1842); and again '… though there are several pictures of him in existence, and one by an artist eminent in his day (Northcote), there is not one in the least to be compared to this by Mr Allston' (letter to Henry Reed 27 March 1843). Sara Coleridge claimed Allston's portrait 'as the best that has been taken of my Father' (L. N. Broughton, Sara Coleridge and Henry Reed, 1937, p 8).

Physical descriptionback to top

Three-quarter-length seated to left aged 42, holding a silver snuff-box and brown handkerchief, in a dark grey coat, white neckcloth and shirt-frill; grey hair (his own), sandy whiskers and eyebrows, grey eyes, pale complexion; architectural background with statue of Chaucer on a corbel to left.

Provenanceback to top

Commissioned by Josiah Wade whose granddaughter married George Tovey Barnard who sold it to the NPG in 1864.

Exhibitionsback to top

Third Exhibition of National Portraits, South Kensington, 1868 (297) lent by the NPG; 'American Artists in Europe 1800-1900’, Liverpool, 1976 (3); 'A Man of Genius: the Art of Washington Allston', Boston & Philadelphia, 1979-80; loan to Dove Cottage since 1980.

Reproductionsback to top

Mezzotint by Samuel Cousins, 'Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aged 42, From the Original Picture in the possession of George T. Barnard Esqre …', published in 1854. A copy of the 5853 subscription list is in the NPG archive; the subscribers' proof plate was accidentally broken after only a few prints had been run off.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

View all known portraits for Samuel Taylor Coleridge