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Robert Southey

6 of 18 portraits of Robert Southey

Robert Southey, by Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey, 1832 -NPG 3956 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

Robert Southey

by Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey
30 in. (762 mm) high
NPG 3956

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This portraitback to top

The bust originated with an order from John Murray 31 December 1828 (Sir Francis Chantrey’s Ledgers of Accounts, p 213) though it seems to have been mooted as early as 1823; in a letter to Bedford 25 May 1823 Southey writes: 'How is Chantrey? Something like a message from him ... expressing a wish that I would sit to him when I come to London' (The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, ed. Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey, V, p 139). Southey came to London in May 1828 ostensibly to see an old uncle but in reality, without telling his family, to undergo a surgical operation for 'a distressing infirmity' and taking the opportunity to sit to both Lawrence and Chantrey (The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, ed. Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey, V, p 326-8). He enjoyed sitting to Chantrey who allowed him the cheerful company of his friends Allan Cunningham and Grosvenor Bedford, 'And therefore in that loathed metropolis Time measured out to me some golden hours. They were not leaden-footed while the clay Beneath the patient touch of Chantrey's hand Grew to the semblance of my lineaments' (Epistle, p 308). However although he had been deeply impressed with Chantrey's bust of Wordsworth he became less so with his own and when Chantrey, also dissatisfied, suggested further sittings he commented tartly in a letter to Bedford: 'Will you say for me to Chantrey that as he is perfectly acquainted with the outside of my head, I have desired Murray to send him a book which will show him the inside of it?' (Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, ed. J. W. Warter, IV, p 133). Sir Francis Chantrey’s Ledgers of Accounts record completion of the bust on 10 November 1832 for 150 guineas but there is no entry in the payment column and it probably remained in the studio till its exhibition at the RA in 1837. Murray never accepted delivery and Southey's son suggests it may have belonged to Sir Robert Peel who certainly owned the Lawrence portrait of Southey (The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, ed. Rev. Charles Cuthbert Southey, V, p 327). But its definite provenance between the RA 1837 and its acquisition from Marcussen in 1955 is at present unknown.
Wyon's wax profile (NPG 2681) seems to derive from the Chantrey bust though the usual acknowledgements were not made.

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Commissioned by John Murray but never delivered and possibly acquired by Sir Robert Peel; bought by the NPG from Montague Marcussen with no previous provenance, 1955.

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RA 1837 (1271); 'Sir Francis Chantrey' NPG and Sheffield 1981 (15).

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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