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Robert Southey

4 of 18 portraits of Robert Southey

Regency Portraits Catalogue

Robert Southey

by Mary Dawson Turner (née Palgrave), after Thomas Phillips
before 1850, based on a work of 1815
7 1/2 in. x 6 3/8 in. (191 mm x 162 mm)
NPG 4071

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed neatly in pencil: R. Southey Esq/D (monogram), and lower left in another hand: Dionysius Aguirre fecit.

This portraitback to top

Phillips's original drawing was among the first stages of a series of portraits of writers planned by John Murray for his office at 50 Albemarle Street, consisting of Byron, Campbell, Coleridge, Crabbe, Rogers, Scott and Southey. Four of these appear as finished in Phillips's Sitter Book for December 1818 (Scott, Southey, Crabbe and Campbell); that of Rogers was a failure, the poet declining to continue sittings in 1817; portraits of Coleridge and Byron were added to the Murray collection in 1835 and 1840. Southey found the sittings a nuisance and begrudged the time away from his beloved Lakes: 'Here in London I can find time for nothing; and to make things worse, the devil who owes me an old grudge has made me sit to Philips for a picture for Murray. I have in my time been tormented in this manner so often and to such little purpose, that I am half tempted to suppose the devil was the inventor of portrait painting' (letter to Mary Baker 9 November 1815, Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, ed. J. W. Warter, 1856, III, p 2). Phillips's sketchbook (in a private collection) contains two preliminary drawings for a portrait of Southey: (1) on page 36, in pencil signed and dated: Southey/TP Novr 6 1815; (2) on page 50, in ink signed and dated: Southey TP del 1815. Phillips sent a copy of the second one to Dawson Turner on 10 November and both Mrs Dawson Turner's drawing and her etching follow this. The name of the artist Dionysius Aguirre inscribed in pencil on the bottom of the sheet is a mystery but is probably a corruption of Mrs Dawson Turner's monogram and the word aquafort to be found in her etching. Aguirre is a fairly common Portuguese name but no artist called Dionysius is to be found in the usual dictionaries.
In any case the profile did not find favour for the Murray series, the final portrait having an entirely different pose, half-length seated to right in a fur-trimmed coat, open shirt collar, with the Poet Laureate's medal (he had succeeded Pye in 1813) and holding a book; it was exhibited 'Byron', V&A Museum, 1974 (E16) and engraved in mezzotint by S. W. Reynolds and in stipple by E. Finden published 1833 by J. Murray. Southey did not like the picture and complained bitterly to his wife about the Reynolds mezzotint in particular: 'Dumbee [Samuel Lane] is making a picture which promises to be as good as Phillips's print is bad, base, vile, vulgar, odious, hateful, detestable, abominable, execrable, and infamous. The rascally mezzotint scraper has made my face fat, fleshy, silly and sensual, and given the eyes an expression which I conceive to be more like two oysters in love than anything else' (letter to Edith Southey, 30 November 1823, New Letters of Robert Southey, ed. Kenneth Curry, 1965, II, p 256). He described it to Allan Cunningham as 'a minion worthy to be set in a wooden frame ...' (Epistle, p 318) and to Caroline Bowles 'the Minion is the mezzotinto from the villainous picture by Phillips' (Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles, ed. Edward Dowden, 1881, p 151).
Copies of the Campbell, Scott and Southey portraits were at Clumber House (Clumber Catalogue, 1923, nos.161-3) and the Southey copy was in the Clumber sale 31 March 1939 (44) bought by Sawyer. The Murray original is still at 50 Albemarle Street.

Provenanceback to top

Louis Mayer, bought from him by A. C. Sewter and given by him in 1958.

Reproductionsback to top

Etching by Mrs Dawson Turner lettered: R. Southey Esq./TP (monogram) delt 1815/Mrs D T (monogram) aquafort.


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.

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