Joseph Severn's paintings

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Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby Cathat906 » Sat Jul 25, 2020 3:00 pm

Joseph Severn was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Academy in 1819 for his painting Una and the Red Cross Knight in the Cave of Despair which was inspired by the epic poem The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, also a significant inspiration for Keats.
However I haven't been able to find an image of the painting online or find out where it is now, or whether it even survives. Does anyone know?
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby CasaMagni » Mon Jul 27, 2020 10:13 pm

I can't find any image of it either. Benjamin West, who presented the medal to Severn, painted his own 'Cave of Despair' in 1772, which was then sold from his collection in 1829. But no trace of Severn's work after it went on display in 1820. Sheila Birkenhead doesn't include it in the images accompanying Illustrious Friends; I haven't read Sue Brown's Severn, A Life.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby Saturn » Mon Jul 27, 2020 11:14 pm

I just skimmed through my copy of the Brown, no image in there, in fact very few pictures of his paintings, it has mainly reproductions of his sketches and later work.
No mention of what happened to it, or of its whereabouts either.

A wonderful and moving book though, which I'd recommend but more about Severn the man, his relationship with Keats and life he lead afterwards than an in depth study of his works.

I'm sure his is not the only painter of that era and earlier whose works have not survived down to today.
I don't know offhand how much of Haydon's work survives either.

I think our love of Keats and his friends rather inflates the perception of people like Haydon and Severn from Keats' enthusiasm and his high opinion of their work.
I think art critics of the time and now would not regard either of them as top rank artists, despite, well Haydon at leasts brief dalliance with the limelight.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby Cathat906 » Mon Jul 27, 2020 11:44 pm

This site from Wake Forest University in North Carolina has three pencil and watercolors of scenery are identified as being done on trip to Italy with poet John Keats- but sadly no images.
https://wakespace.lib.wfu.edu/handle/10339/39213
It goes on helpfully to say a selection of his paintings can today be found in museums including the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Tate Britain.
Searching the Tate archive online they have only one work from a much later period -The Infant of the Apocalypse Saved from the Dragon.
https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/joseph-severn-487
The V&A also has a search function- it turns up 5 works including a pencil drawing of Keats from 1820, but no Red Cross Knight.
So it may exist in some vault somewhere, if it does still exist someone should produce a photograph of this work given its important connection to the Romantic movement and Keats in particular. It must have been a painting of quality because it was the first Gold medal the Royal Academy had bestowed for 12 years.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby Cathat906 » Tue Jul 28, 2020 12:12 am

At the risk of getting obsessed with this search Sotherbys have a record of selling six Severn paintings including A Scene from the Tempest Prospero and Ariel twice- in 2015 and 2020- the most recent sale being 6.25K less than the previous price. The first sale was from the Duchess of Roxburghe's estate after her death in 2014. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction ... akespeares

The entry helpfully says her grandfather Lord Houghton owned several works by Joseph Severn, including Una Seizing the Dagger from the Despairing Red Cross Knight (1819).
Lord Houghton is also known as Richard Monckton Milnes - the first biographer of Keats.
So my guess is the painting probably hangs on the wall of some country pile of a descendant of RMM.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby CasaMagni » Tue Jul 28, 2020 1:13 am

Oh that's a valuable nugget of information - so the painting did not disappear from history after its initial exhibition. In that case there must be a reasonable chance it can be relocated I feel.

Just a slight clarification on the Academy Gold Medal. It was awarded for the first time in 8 years (according to contemporary newspapers) and the artists were given a year to prepare their composition. So it was not awarded to Severn because his painting was the best in 8 years - somebody had to win it in other words. It was clearly a prestigious award though, even if, as you say Saturn, he would probably not now be remembered as an artist without his association with Keats. I always find his letters and articles very readable, and abounding with many a lovely turn of phrase. He was a genuinely talented man by normal standards imo.

Edit: I'm not 100% sure if what I said there is true. The way I read the contemporary article is that, in November 1819, a statement is made that 'the gold medal for an original historical picture, has not been given for the last eight years.' I suppose that could mean the prize was on offer in each of the previous 8 years, but no entry was deemed worthy of claiming it? I'm not sure. Gott won the gold medal for historical model, and Smith for design in 1819. Had these also not been awarded over the previous 8 years? Cannot confirm.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby Cathat906 » Tue Jul 28, 2020 1:33 pm

My source for the 12 year hiatus was Sheila Birkinheads biography -Against Oblivion, The Life of Joseph Severn, but I think you are right she got it wrong and the gap was 8 years- that's what Wikipedia says although its unreferenced. I haven't been able to confirm this in the Royal Academy archives as they don't appear to be fully digitised, there is a search function that gives you a description of the contents of a printed archive but that's as far as I can get. If you have a reference to contemporary newspapers, that is most likely to be the correct interval.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby CasaMagni » Wed Jul 29, 2020 12:53 am

Yes, the 'Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser' from 03 November 1819... 'the medal for original historical picture, has not been given for the last eight years'. Probably Sheila Birkenhead confused 1812 (when the most recent prize-winner would have been exhibited) with '12 years'.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby BrokenLyre » Thu Jul 30, 2020 7:27 pm

Thank you for all your hard work on this information. It's been too long since I've been on this forum. Glad to be back friends.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby Cathat906 » Fri Jul 31, 2020 11:15 am

I am wondering if anyone might have any links to 'persons with influence in Keats academia' that might be able to make a case for locating this painting and having a photograph of this important work in the public domain. It is an important part of the history of the Romantic movement.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby CasaMagni » Sat Aug 01, 2020 1:28 am

Have you contacted the Keats Shelley House in Rome? They have probably the most extensive catalogue of Keatsiana and not long ago featured 'Shelley Composing Prometheus Unbound in the Baths of Caracalla' on their Facebook page.
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Re: Joseph Severn's paintings

Postby Cathat906 » Sat Aug 01, 2020 2:43 pm

Good thinking, will do.
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