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John Varley

2 of 2 portraits of John Varley

John Varley, by William Blake, circa 1820-1825 -NPG 1194 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

John Varley

by William Blake
circa 1820-1825
11 1/2 in. x 7 3/4 in. (292 mm x 197 mm)
NPG 1194

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed by John Varley: Portrait of J. Varley/By Wm Blake//J. Varley Born/Augst 17. 1778/18.56 pm/[Sagittarius] ascending.

This portraitback to top

Varley's association with Blake began in 1818, the introduction effected by John Linnell. Varley, a keen astrologer, was immediately attracted to the visionary aspect of Blake and indeed Blake's Visionary Heads were 'summoned' at night sessions in Varley's house in 1819-20. Varley's naïve and unquestioning acceptance of all Blake's spiritual fantasies probably occasioned some gentle leg-pulling and 'The Ghost of a Flea' (Tate Gallery 5889 and engraved by Linnell for Varley's Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy) could conceivably be Blake poking fun at his friend's rugged countenance - as he did in the elephant caricature (Geoffrey Keynes, The Complete Portraiture of William & Catherine Blake, 1977, 30 and Martin Butlin, William Blake, exhibition catalogue, 1978, 278-9, 283).

Physical descriptionback to top

Head and shoulders to left.

Provenanceback to top

John Varley; Albert Varley; Alfred Aspland sold Sotheby's 27 January 1885 (71) bought Ogden of Oxford; bought Godfrey E. P. Arkwright and given by him 1899.

Exhibitionsback to top

'William Blake', Tate Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1978 (278).


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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