Images from the Poetry

Illustrating Keats

Images from the Poetry
The Keats-Shelley House Rome, Italy April 9, 2012 - November 24, 2012

Edited by Giuseppe Albano and Luca Caddia Project Design by Stefanie Di Croce

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS We are grateful to the artists who participated in the exhibition (namely Julian Peters, Ruggero Savinio, Emily Sutton, and Nancy Watkins), to the Chairmen, Trustees, and Friends of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association in the UK and in Rome, and to the President, Directors, and Friends of the Keats-Shelley Association of America. Special thanks are also due to the following people who patiently advised and provided invaluable information and support: Flora Allen, Annelisa Alleva, Mary Burr, David Devereux, Sophy Downes, Giovanna Vincenti, and Sarah Wootton. We would finally like to thank Dumfries and Galloway Council and the National Trust for Scotland for their kind permission to reproduce the work of Jessie Marion King. Every effort has been made to locate other copyright holders. If any have inadvertently been overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make appropriate arrangements at the first opportunity.


IntroduCtIon Giuseppe Albano .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 7 the eve of st Agnes .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 12 endymIon .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 16 IsAbellA; or the Pot of bAsIl .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 20 lAmIA .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 26 hyPerIon .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 30 lA belle dAme sAns merCI .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 34 odes And sonnets .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 40 Afterword Nancy Watkins .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 45 ArtIst bIogrAPhIes .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 49 Index of IllustrAtIons .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 53


IllustrAtIng KeAts
Illustrators have long sought to make books more attractive, and more appealing, to readers, and still do so to this day. Even in this age of the e-book, readers, who are still hungry for new knowledge and new experience despite the ever greater demands made on their leisure time, will occasionally (and maybe increasingly) find images that enliven their electronic texts. During the nineteenth century, however, the art of book illustration experienced its golden age, partly because of the explosion in mass production of books, with publishers having a wider readership than ever before to seduce and sell to, and partly too because of the influence of the illuminated manuscript, to which the modern illustrated book owes its greatest debt. The raiding of church and monastic libraries that followed various wars and revolutions, such as Napoleon’s invasion of Italy in 1796, resulted in a great number of thitherto closely guarded secrets leaking into circulation. The efforts of medieval and Renaissance illuminators were so delightful to nineteenth-century eyes that their images were often taken from the original volumes and transformed into self-contained miniature paintings which, together with a great many fine manuscripts that still survive intact, grace museums and libraries across Europe and America. Visitors to such collections will see for themselves precisely what drove William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in the 1850s, first at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, then, when they moved to London in 1856, at the Manuscript Room at the British Museum, to seek out, to study and sketch, and to appropriate into their own work, the luscious forays into colour and line that they saw.1 In so doing, these artists, together with the likes of John Ruskin, that great harbinger of Victorian aesthetic taste, who gave a lecture on the art of illumination at Oxford in 1854, helped enthuse new generations of illustrators to reinvent the glories of the medieval book, and adapt it to the needs and tastes of modern audiences. The boom in productions of editions of Keats, whose poetry gained exponential popularity in the second half of the century, caught this publishing Zeitgeist, and the first volume on display in the present exhibition, dating from 1856, includes a series of illustrations by Edward H. Wehnert to accompany The Eve of St Agnes. With this publication commenced the long and fruitful tradition of rendering Keats’s verse into illustration, which in many respects parallels the sister tradition of painterly interpretations that had been underway since the previous decade, when Keats-inspired paintings appeared by William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, the latter of the two being a former student of Wehnert. 1856 was also the year that the painter (and sometime book illustrator) Arthur Hughes unveiled his visually sumptuous triptych The Eve of St Agnes (Tate Britain, London), whose praises were sung by Ruskin. As Julie 1
See Michaela Braesel, ‘The Influence of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts on the Pre-Raphaelites and the Early Poetry of William Morris’, Journal of William Morris Studies 15.4 (Summer 2004, pp.. 41-54).


Codell and Sarah Wootton have shown, The Eve of St Agnes became particularly popular with the Pre-Raphaelites, who found rich pickings in its medieval atmosphere.2 But the poem was also adapted to other artistic styles and interpretations. In 1885 the American illustrator Edmund H. Garrett, for one, teased out its Orientalist subtext and included Arabesque borders and images of the exterior and interior of a mosque, the latter complete with prayer mats, hanging lamps and Mihrab, where Keats’s ‘swart Paynims pray’ as seen in figure 1. Through the remaining decades of the 1800s and the first half of the century that followed, illustrators became ever more inventive with their interpretations of Keats’s poems, even if their output was very much in keeping with wider 1. ‘Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;’ trends in the fine and decorative arts, - Edmund H, Garrett from Impressionism to Realism, through Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. By the time we reach the elegant wood engravings of New Zealander John Buckland-Wright in the 1930s and 1940s, we discover a set of illustrations that are at once starkly modern but also reassuringly timeless and classical. 1950 saw the publication of a sumptuously produced Folio Society edition of the Poems of John Keats, with decorative engravings by Dorothea Braby, but the second half of the twentieth century witnessed a relative slump in the publication of new illustrated editions. Our own century, however, has seen something of a resurgence with the appearance of several new illustrated editions of Keats’s work, including another classically handsome Folio Society edition with new wood engravings by Simon Brett, as well as a series of smart, bitesize pocketbooks, which are perfect for an increasingly busy reading public who no longer have the time or patience to wade through weighty tomes. As the publishing industry changes, so too will the demands made of illustrators and, inevitably, the kind of work they produce in response to a changing market and
2 Julie Codell, ‘Painting Keats: Pre-Raphaelite Artists between Social Transgression and Painterly Conventions’, Victorian Poetry 33, (1995, p. 341-370); Sarah Wootton, Consuming Keats: Nineteenth-Century Representations in Art and Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).


the new technologies available to them. Like thousands of illustrations over the centuries, the cover image for a 2009 edition of Ode to Psyche and Other Poems began life as a pencil sketch, but it was then scanned and transformed into an Adobe Illustrator template, before becoming a vibrant colour vector image. Its creator, Mary Burr, placed her finished work – which featured a halo over the head of the woman, who was intended to be an angel and originally designed alongside a devil – on an internet image bank. The work was purchased by Salt Publishing, who removed the halo (so as to de-Christianise the image and make it fit for Psyche, Greek Goddess of the Soul), and the illustrator was pleasantly surprised when I informed her that her work had been used for the cover of a book of Keats’s poems shown in figure 2. 2. Cover of Ode to Psyche and Other Poems Other contemporary artists have - Mary Burr engaged with Keats in a variety of ways, so much so that it could be argued that the very nature of illustration has broadened to incorporate aesthetic responses to the poet’s work more generally, rather than solely to produce visual interpretations of specific poems. Following a visit to the Keats-Shelley House, American photographer Alec Soth held an exhibition of photographs inspired by Keats’s verse and by the artist’s own time in the city. The fruits of these labours were exhibited as part of the 2011 ‘Fotografia Festival Internazionale di Roma’ and appeared in a lavish photobook titled La Belle Dame Sans Merci, published by Punctum Press. The present exhibition, however, focuses on dedicated Keats editions with specially, specifically, commissioned works of illustration. For lovers of this venerable tradition there are many splendid images to choose from, not only in the glorious sequence of decades between the work of Wehnert and Wright, which are summarised in the following chapters, but also, I’m delighted to report, over the last few years. The exhibition thus also includes original illustrations undertaken for recent publications and features dynamic and occasionally provocative work by Rome-based artists Nancy Watkins and Ruggero Savinio, whose drawings appeared in three beautifully produced Il Labirinto editions of Keats’s poems (1997, 2006, and 2010); by the English artist Emily Sutton, whose charming nightingale, produced from a lino-cut print, graced the 9

cover of Andrew Motion’s John Keats (Faber and Faber, 2011); and by Canadian Julian Peters, whose deft, comic-book adaptation of La Belle Dame Sans Merci (2009) opens Keats up to a new generation of admirers. Herein lies the reason for the exhibition’s title, ‘Illustrating Keats’, rather than ‘Illustrated Keats’, or ‘Keats Illustrations’; while a participle or a noun might suggest that these artistic endeavours are somehow finished or finite, the gerund implies the process to be an ongoing one. Indeed at the time of writing Savinio has been working on a series of drawings inspired directly by Keats’s poems, and included in the exhibition is a haunting new figure of Hyperion (2012), just one such image from the bank he has amassed. The fact that contemporary artists are reinventing how we see Keats by sharing their own visions with us indicates that literature and visual art may indeed be enjoying what Nancy Watkins calls a ‘reciprocal nurturing between the two arts’ in her afterword to the present catalogue found on page 46. But the relations between these art forms has not always been quite so productive or as free and easy as one might like to imagine. The increase in the number of illustrated editions of Keats’s work – and, of course, of a multitude of authors, both classic and contemporary – in the nineteenth century may also be seen in wider historical terms of the boosted status of literature in the eyes of the art establishment. The nineteenth century saw an explosion on an unprecedented scale of the number of artists – painters and sculptors, as well as illustrators – responding to literary themes, stories, and characters in their commissioned work. This phenomenon owed much to the popularity of so-called genre painting during the previous century, which paved the way for literature to become a respectable choice of subject, while prior to this period it was somewhat less prestigious. With the rise of the royal European Academies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a hierarchy of genres in painting was formed and rigorously adhered to. Literary scenes didn’t have their own place in the hierarchy, and were usually consigned to the third category – after history and portraiture respectively – as ‘genre painting’, or ‘scenes from everyday life’, rather than up with the top-ranking historical subjects, unless, of course, the literary subjects in question overlapped with historical events or with mythological, religious, or allegorical themes (which would also be classified as historical scenes). Consequently, the most ambitious artists who pursued fellowships at one of Europe’s Academies would often overlook literature as an appropriate choice of subject matter for fear of being branded genre painters, mere specialists in scenes from everyday life. To anyone familiar with the history of literature, or indeed with the history of history, the denigration of literary scenes in art might seem a little strange given that prior to the late eighteenth century historical writing didn’t really exist as a selfcontained discipline at all, but was, rather, perceived to be a branch of literature. But this difference in opinion really brings home just one of the key differences between literature and art, two distinct spheres of cultural production that have not always seen 10

eye to eye and still, occasionally, continue to be fraught with tension. If the art world has at times undervalued literature as a legitimate choice of subject for its practitioners, so too can men and women of letters be sniffy about the value of visual art. The critic and academic John Carey published a fascinating book titled What Good are the Arts? (Faber and Faber, 2005) in which he makes an impassioned case for the intellectually and spiritually redemptive power of the arts, generally, and of literature, specifically, which he takes to be supreme among art forms because of its sheer indistinctness, thereby allowing individuals to play an active part in the interpretive (and thus creative) process. One example of many used by Carey is that of the Romantic poet and illustrator William Blake. Carey praises Blake’s poem ‘The Sick Rose’, which for more than two centuries has preoccupied critics and commentators about what it all might ultimately mean, and whether Blake’s ‘invisible worm/ That flies in the night’ is intended to be a phallic symbol in a poem about venereal disease. Carey rejoices in Blake’s sumptuous ambiguity, which, needless to say, presents a daunting task to any illustrator (how on earth could anyone ever depict a worm that is meant to be invisible, and is at any rate metaphorical) and proceeds to dismiss the poet’s attempt to illustrate his own work:
Blake’s illustration for the poem, which shows a rose, with what appears to be a spirit trying to escape from it, and a caterpillar munching one of its leaves, seems inadequate to the meanings that this poem suggests. It supports the feeling that visual art, in its definiteness and solidity, cannot match the indistinctness of literature. (Carey, p. 225)

Carey’s stance is nothing if not thought-provoking. The purpose of the present exhibition, however, is not to throw fuel or water on to the fire of the literature versus art debate by pitting one against the other, but to show how illustrators have sought not merely to depict Keats’s work, but to interpret it, teasing out themes and meanings that are often only implied rather than specified. In this respect their efforts are essentially a form of reading itself. More so than many of his peers in the English literary canon, Keats, whose work is infused with vivid imagery, is from the outset a particularly visual poet, and was praised as such by Oscar Wilde in his sonnet ‘The Grave of Keats,’ the manuscript of which is on display at the Keats-Shelley House, as ‘poet-painter of our English land’. In his very visuality Keats is a gift to those illustrators (and indeed painters) who have re-interpreted (and sometimes re-imagined) his work. And the present exhibition is meant as a gift to his readers who, it is hoped, will enjoy their endeavours, and begin even to think about the poet’s work in different ways. Giuseppe Albano Curator, Keats-Shelley House Rome, 2012


the eve of st Agnes
Keats’s poem The Eve of St Agnes (1819), which tells the story of two lovers, Madeline and Porphyro, has long been one of his most successful works. Legend has it that virgins will dream of their future husbands on the Eve of St Agnes (20 January), provided that specific rituals are performed. Porphyro, a sworn enemy of Madeline’s family, hides in a closet and peeps at his beloved while she performs these rites. She awakes to discover him standing over her bed, and deems him to be the man in her dream. They elope together while her family are distracted by festivities. The illustration (1880) by American artist Charles Oliver Murray (1842-1924) [fig. 3] shows an interesting take on the subject of Madeline undressing for bed: while in other contemporary interpretations of this scene Madeline is unaware of being observed and is somehow objectified by the man’s gaze (i.e., John Everett Millais’s Madeleine Undressing, 1863), Murray’s Madeline is looking towards the spectator while undressing, as if she were aware of someone else’s presence. This departure from Keats’s original text demonstrates how etchers and engravers were no mere facsimile reproducers of literary works, but had a creative involvement with their commissions. The first illustrated edition of The Eve of St Agnes was published in 1856 with twenty engravings on wood after drawings by English-born German artist Edward Henry Wehnert (1813-1868). Figure 4 depicts the two lovers fleeing the castle. Wehnert chooses to portray a heroic image of Porphyro. Sword in hand like a secular St George ready to face the ‘sleeping dragons’ described by Keats, he stands in the middle of the canvas while Madeline resembles a phantom-like extension of his body. This is noteworthy considering that Porphyro is the one Keats describes to appear ‘pallid, chill, and drear’. Wehnert’s choice to give these qualities instead to Madeline speaks volumes about mid-Victorian debates on the domestic role of women. In the beautifully framed edition (1885) by Edmund H. Garrett (1853-1929) [fig. 5], the images appear more chaste than those of other illustrators; this particular picture, however, draws focus to the point of view of the poem, something previous artists had also broached. In Garrett’s interpretation, Madeline and Porphyro are finally united, but while Porphyro’s gaze is invisible to the spectator, Madeleine’s gaze becomes the clear protagonist of the image. This reminds the viewer that Porphyro is the object of Madeline’s desire just as much as she is of his, and argues for a much stronger female agency in the story than debates on the undressing scene have usually generated. It also reminds the twenty-first century observer that illustrations were fundamentally meant to encourage readers’ identifications with characters. By focusing on Madeline’s gaze, the illustrator effectively assumes that the average reader of the poem is a woman.


3. ‘Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:’ - Charles O. Murray


4. ‘They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;’ - Edward H. Wehnert


5. ‘My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!’ - Edmund H. Garrett


Of all Keats’s poems, Endymion (1818) received the most dismissive reviews when first published, although it eventually became of his most cited works. Beginning with the famous line ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’, the poem’s hero is a mythological shepherd who becomes the beloved of Cynthia, Goddess of the Moon. The poem’s Arcadian plot, together with its rich language, have inspired outstanding illustrations. The representation in the first featured image [fig. 6] made by French-born engraver Ferdinand Jean Joubert de la Ferté (1810-1884) after a painting by Edward John Poynter (1836-1919) in 1873, is one of the most beautiful images to have been inspired by the poem . It shows the moment when the sleeping shepherd is visited by the moon in a dream. Aroused by the vision, he asks the gods ‘Whence that completed form of all completeness? Whence came that high perfection of all sweetness?’ The image is particularly striking by virtue of the harmonious composition of its parts: we have the nude female figure in the middle with her scarf blowing in the wind ‘into a fluttering pavilion’; the simple white background made by the moonlight; and the intricate poppies and other wildflowers cradling the dream of Endymion, with his fine Raphaelesque features. The same scene also inspired British book illustrator Edmund Joseph Sullivan (1869-1933), whose skills as an artist were enhanced by his wild imagination. In the excellent representation ‘Diana and Endymion’ (1910) shown in figure 7, the shepherd appears to be embraced by a mermaid-like version of the goddess and the two lovers are swept away into a velvet midnight. Because many men felt threatened by the new public status achieved by women after the Victorian age, early twentieth-century artists would often find a fertile subject in the femme fatale prototype, of which Sullivan’s Diana is a notable example. In the next image [fig. 8] from the 1947 illustrated edition of Endymion by John Buckland-Wright (1897-1954) the impact of the female presence on the helpless man has several layers of meaning: JBW was severely affected by his experience of the First World War, during which he had rescued wounded and dying soldiers from the trenches. Therefore, he often employed the female presence in his work to convey a soothing rather than threatening effect. This is why although this picture shows the goddess of the moon literally plunging herself towards the shepherd, whose vulnerability is enhanced by the crossed arms behind his back, it does not follow that hers is a threatening presence. On the contrary, she appears to be there to save him and to lead him into a different world.


6. ‘Whence that completed form of all?’ - Ferdinand Jean Joubert de la Ferté after Edward John Poynter


7. ‘Diana and Endymion’ - Edmund Joseph Sullivan


8. ‘The Moonbeam’ - John Buckland-Wright


IsAbellA; or the Pot of bAsIl
This poem from 1818 is an adaptation of a tale from Boccaccio’s Decameron and tells the story of Isabella, a young woman from the Middle Ages who falls in love with Lorenzo, an employee of her brothers. When they discover this, they murder Lorenzo and bury his body. Isabella then exhumes the corpse and buries its head in a pot of basil, which she cares for obsessively. When her brothers find it and steal it, she pines away to death. This poem was so often illustrated during the Victorian Age that in 1897 a critic from The Studio described Isabella as ‘a design which every black and white artist is doomed to attempt sooner or later’. One such illustration [fig. 9] is by William Brown MacDougall (1868-1936), a British artist who worked for a limited period of time as an illustrator. The elaborate decorations of the images he created for Isabella (1898) combine the elegant and artificial silhouettes of the Art Nouveau style and the more organic motifs of William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement. This original combination is very appropriate in a poem like Isabella, whose natural themes are matched by the story’s extraordinary outcome. Isabella was also very popular with women artists like Henrietta Rae and Jessie Marion King (1875–1949) the latter of whom illustrated the poem in 1907. In figure 12 King’s use of cold colours such as lilac, light blue and pale green sets the scene for an intimate representation of Isabella’s unease following Lorenzo’s disappearance. It is also a departure from the traditional focus on the heroine nurturing her basil pot. King designed an original take on the disinterment scene [fig. 13], where the vertical lines of the plants surrounding Isabella present a striking contrast to the lifelessness of Lorenzo’s head. One of the most interesting illustrations of this section of the poem is by Robert Anning Bell (1863-1933), whose 1897 edition of Keats’s Poems features the uncanny image in figure 10. This picture can be interpreted as a triumph of feminine agency over male helplessness and it might be for this reason that when a second edition of the Poems was released in 1898 this was the only image changed by the artist [fig. 11, which features a more subtle view of Lorenzo’s lifeless head]. The head as symbol appears again in the charcoal illustration on page 25 by Paul Henry (1876-1958), whose Pre-Raphaelite quality is tempered by chiaroscuro nuances typical of the Irish artist’s later work. This image from 1906 represents the moment in the poem when Isabella discovers that her basil pot has been taken away: the heroine appears here faceless, as if it is her head that has been stolen rather Lorenzo’s. The life she felt she was giving to her beloved while keeping his head in the vase was in fact giving her strength, so much so that she becomes unable to cope with the loss and dies.


9. ‘In her tone and look he read the rest’ - W. B. MacDougall


10. ‘Pale Isabella kiss’d it and low moan’d’ (1897) - Robert Anning Bell


11. ‘Pale Isabella kiss’d it and low moan’d’ (1898) - Robert Anning Bell


12. ‘Today thou wilt not see him nor tomorrow/ And the next day will be a day of sorrow’ - Jessie Marion King

13. ‘If love impersonate was ever dead/ Pale Isabella kissed it and low-moaned’ - Jessie Marion King


14. ‘For cruel ‘tis said she/ To steal my Basil-pot from me’ - Paul Henry


In ancient Greek mythology, Lamia was the beautiful queen of Libya who became a childeating daemon after Hera killed her children, who were fathered by Zeus. Some accounts said she had a serpent’s tail below her waist, an image that Keats’s poem from 1819 endorsed and helped popularize. In the poem the God Hermes is looking for the most beautiful nymph in the woods but he comes across Lamia, who appears in the form of a glittering snake-woman. As a reward for telling him where to find the nymph, Hermes restores her human form. She thus goes in search of her beloved Lycius of Corinth while Hermes and the nymph fly away together. Unfortunately, Lamia’s relationship with Lycius comes to a bitter end when her true identity is revealed. To modern eyes, the image on the facing page [fig. 15], may seem an innocuous representation of a romanticised natural scene, but for the Victorian public the visual symbol of a young lady by water would have immediately brought to mind the ‘fallen woman,’ one of the most controversial subjects in Victorian figurative art. At the time that John Everett Millais exhibited his Ophelia (1851-2), chronicles abounded with news of unfortunates committing suicide by drowning after having been deserted or violated, so the connection between the manner of Hamlet’s fiancée’s death and that of a prostitute looked as shocking as it was direct. John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott (1888) also showed a tragic woman floating in water, and Robert Anning Bell’s illustration from 1897 (page 27) falls into the same tradition of those two paintings by showing a doomed female character by a pond, her reflection clearly visible through the ripples on the water’s surface. Curiously, this image shares another graphic detail with Millais’s and Waterhouse’s pictures: the rushes occupying the bottom left foreground, which are arranged similarly to those in the paintings by the other two artists. Keats’s Lamia has influenced several artists, including Waterhouse himself, who made two paintings inspired by it. The most beautiful illustrated edition of the poem is certainly the one by American artist Will H. Low (1853-1932), published in 1885 at a time when his work was in high demand. Figure 16 represents the moment when Lycius faints after Lamia has told him she cannot stay because ‘finer spirits cannot breath below in human climes, and live’. In order to help him, she kisses him and begins to sing, ‘happy in beauty, life, and love, and everything’. It is a moment of absolute romantic happiness within a doomed story, and Keats’s verse is embellished by the artist’s ability to render the drama of the situation. Figure 17 is again by Low and shows a melancholic Hermes on the clouds. It is a fine study of the nude male figure, one of the most recurrent subjects in Low’s art.


15. ‘While her robes flaunted with the daffodils’ - Robert Anning Bell


16. ‘Swooned, murmuring of love, and pale with pain’ - Will H. Low


17. ‘From high Olympus had he stolen light,’ - Will H. Low


The lavish depiction of Hyperion shown here in figure 18 is one of twenty-four colour illustrations produced for a 1911 edition of Keats’s poems by British artist Averil Burleigh (1883-1949), who established a fine reputation for herself as an illustrator and painter in watercolours. Their instant ability to chime with the times saw two of the images reproduced in The Bookman Keats-Shelley Memorial Souvenir in 1912. Keats’s inspiration for his poem Hyperion (1818-19) derives from classical mythology, a subject loved by the poet since childhood. Hyperion, God of Light, is one of the twelve Titan Gods led by ‘gray-hair’d Saturn’, who all come to be overthrown by the new order of Gods, known as the Olympians and led by Saturn’s son Jupiter. Burleigh’s image shows Hyperion rising and bringing light to the earth at the end of Book I of Keats’s poem, ‘with a slow incline of his broad breast,/ Like to a diver in the pearly seas’. At this stage in the tale he is the only remaining Titan to hold on to his position, the others having already been usurped, but he too will soon come to be replaced by another, and his successor, the young Apollo, becomes not only God of Light but also of Song. While Burleigh’s blond – and some might say blandly – handsome Hyperion bursts with light and colour, the depiction by Thomas Strong Seccombe (1840-1899) [fig. 19] which comes from William Michael Rossetti’s immensely popular 1872 edition of Keats’s Poems, is strikingly different. In addition to his painting and illustration work, Seccombe pursued a successful military career, which is perhaps reflected in his visual take on Hyperion, standing outside ‘His palace bright,/ Bastion’d with pyramids of glowing gold’. In some respects Seccombe’s figure displays the sort of muscular heroism that dominated late nineteenth-century appropriations of classical models. However, his Hyperion is also dark and chilling, and prophesies twentieth-century Gothic visualisations of the sort found in graphic novels, comics, and fantasy/science fiction literature and cinema. Keats originally intended Hyperion to become an epic work of ten books, but abandoned the poem because he felt it owed too much of a debt to Milton, whose grand style troubled him. He subsequently took up the task again, this time setting out to compose a new epic called The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream (1819), and this time infusing a Dante-esque structure into the story, but the project was again aborted. Part of the problem may have been the difficulties in characterisation, in capturing the essence of Hyperion without over-simplifying the tale’s morality. From these very different illustrations, however, we can see how artists have conjured him up in their own minds. The recent nightmarish illustration [fig. 20] by Ruggero Savinio (born 1934) drawn in 2011 shows that the debate about whether we depict the Classical Gods as innately beautiful, Christian-inspired figures, or as dark ambiguous beings is far from over.


18. ‘Hyperion arose’ - Averil Burleigh


19. ‘While sometimes eagles’ wings’ - Thomas Strong Seccombe


20. Hyperion - Ruggero Savinio


lA belle dAme sAns merCI
La Belle Dame sans Merci (1819), of which there exist two versions, is a major work in the Keats canon. A ballad with a simple structure and several layers of meaning, it owes its title to a fifteenth-century poem by Alain Chartier. A knight meets a damsel in distress, with whom he falls in love before being taken by her to a cave. There he falls asleep and dreams of the other victims of the damsel, who tell him that he is now under her spell. The knight awakens and finds her gone. The medieval setting of the poem and its femme-fatale subject have inspired several Pre-Raphaelite and early twentieth-century painters who tended to focus on the moment of the encounter between the lovers, as if they agreed that the gaze of the woman was the agent of danger. This suggestion is also found in Julian Peters’s 2009 comic [fig. 21], which shows a multiple close-up of the belle dame’s alluring look and provides a strong identification with the male character’s vulnerability to sensual love. At first glance, Will H. Low’s picture from 1888 [fig. 22] may seem an strangely idyllic portrayal of the two lovers: the woman’s gaze is serene and the man has gallantly offered her a seat on his horse. Some details in the image, however, imply a certain hidden danger: the knight is holding the reins, which can be interpreted as a metaphor of his self-possession, while the damsel is enclosing him with her arms around his neck, as if taking him captive. In the 1911 illustration by Averil Burleigh [fig. 23], the mannered medievalism of the costumes shows that by the start of the twentieth century the Pre-Raphaelite legacy had embraced more exotic influences: the flowers on the belle dame’s dress have clear Japanese influences. She kneels amongst dry leaves representing the autumnal death to which the knights on the background are condemned. Late-Victorian paintings such as Herbert Schmalz’s Faithful Unto Death – Christianae ad Leones (1897) had aroused the public’s sense of morbidity by displaying vulnerable naked female subjects. Burleigh seems here to reverse the same issue by showing male victims tied to trees, phallic symbols of their own captivity. An innovative image of the two lovers was designed by Robert Anning Bell (1897) who, on the facing pages of this double-page spread [figs. 24-25], shows the two lovers together on one corner and the ‘death-pale’ kings and princes on the opposite. The illustration is interesting from a graphic perspective: by splitting the scene across two panels, Bell uses the physical pages of the book to narrate the veil between the waking and dream worlds. The difference is also enhanced by the horizontality of the lovers’ position in contrast to the verticality of the other men, who merge with the rocks as if stripped of their human qualities. 34

21. ‘Full beautiful – a faery’s child’ - Julian Peters


22. ‘I set her on my pacing steed,/ And nothing else saw all day long,’ - Will H. Low


23. ‘I saw pale kings and princes, too’ - Averil Burleigh


24. ‘And there we slumbered on the moss’ - Robert Anning Bell


25. ‘I saw pale kings, and princes too’ - Robert Anning Bell


odes And sonnets
Keats’s celebrated odes and sonnets have been an inspiration to many illustrators. In Will H. Low’s illustration in figure 26, he depicts ‘two fair creatures couched side by side/ In deepest grass, beneath the whisp’ring roof/ Of leaves and trembled blossoms’, which are encountered by the speaker in ‘Ode to Psyche’ (1819). The youths are Cupid and Psyche, as described in Apuleius’s Golden Ass, which Keats had read in the sixteenth-century translation by William Adlington. According to legend, Cupid marries the nymph Psyche and transports her to a place of bliss. Low’s skill in rendering classical themes with late nineteenth-century tastes and fashions in mind demonstrates how illustrations were not merely faithful reproductions of the literature, but rather artistic adaptations of them. By the time this edition of the Odes and Sonnets was published (1888), decadent aestheticism had become a popular way to portray antiquity: the herm with a faun’s head in the middle of the picture shows that the love of Cupid and Psyche was carnal, while Keats’s ode sublimates this fact through the poet’s enthusiastic devotion to a neglected deity. The nightingale in figure 27 is the original lino-cut block by Emily Sutton that was used to produce the charming cover design of Andrew Motion’s 2011 Faber and Faber edition of Keats’s selected poems. The lino-cut process involves cutting a design into a sheet of linoleum, so that a mirror image is produced of the design to be printed. The uncarved surface is then rolled over with ink colouring; when pressed onto paper, the carved indentations form the highlights of the image. While the technique is a modern one, deriving from the last century and popularised by artists like Picasso and Matisse, its roots derive from woodcut printing, which goes back to the fifteenth century. Figure 28 features Ruggero Savinio’s pen-and-ink drawing created for the cover of Keats’s collection of poems Sulla fama (Il Labirinto, 1997). The next image features the tragic lovers Paolo and Francesca, who are described in Canto V of Dante’s Inferno. ‘A Dream, after Reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo and Francesca’ (1819) was written following a dream Keats had of the literary couple two weeks after Fanny Brawne had moved next door to Keats in Hampstead; the lines ‘fair the form/ I floated with, about that melancholy storm’ suggest Keats’s blossoming relationship with Fanny despite the doubts of his friends. The whirlwind quality of New Zealander John Buckland-Wright’s illustration [fig. 29], which was designed in 1930, conveys the vortex of passion which took possession of the doomed lovers, while the sensuous yet geometric features of the couple highlight how post-Edwardian era British art began to embrace the European avant-garde.


26. ‘Two fair creatures couched side by side’ - Will H. Low


27. Cover for John Keats Emily Sutton

28. Cover for Amore e fama Ruggero Savinio


29. ‘[F]air the form/ I floated with, about that melancholy storm’ - John Buckland-Wright


I / eye
The I of the Poet Through the Eye of the Artist

Imagination and an inquiring mind ignite the desire to establish contact with worlds beyond our own. Where science and technology attempt a literal route, using, for example, enormous parabolic antennas or launching capsules into space, art and poetry leap through time and space guided by inner sympathy and the I/eye’s laser focus. Just as in love or friendship, often there is an almost instantaneous recognition of a fellow spirit, followed by intense dialogue. Poetry is the speaking voice, the verbal ‘I’, whereas art is vision, the seeing ‘eye’. John Keats is, however, an unusually visual poet and a keen observer. The eye itself holds a special significance for him and is a constant presence in his poetry: in various poems it reflects all states of emotion, from ‘lustrous’, ‘dancing’, ‘sun bright’, to ‘wild’, ‘gloom-pleas’d’, down to ‘leadeneyed despair’. Keats’s ‘peerless eyes’ indeed ‘feed deep, deep’. As he writes in a letter to his brother Tom, ‘I live in the eye’. It is no accident many artists have found in him a kindred being. ‘How many bards gild the lapses of time!/ A few of them have ever been the food/ Of my delighted fancy.’ These lines by Keats, describing his fervid apprenticeship and lifelong devotion to the work of other poets, hold a universal truth, not only for poets, but also for those who have a similar relationship with poetry – in my case that of accompanying poets’ works with drawings and paintings.
30. ‘In Flames’


31. ‘Violet as Shadow’

Poetry is born from poetry, just as art is born from art, but there can also be reciprocal nurturing between the two arts. Poetry born of poetry is very present in Keats’s work; among others named in his sonnets are Homer, Shakespeare, Burns, Chatterton: they form his own personal constellation, stars from which he captured a spark – at the same time fonts of inspiration and guides for his own writing. There are three sonnets in Amore e fama1 with which my works correspond and all three explicitly show Keats’s particular dialogue with other poets: Milton and Petrarch in the first, Reynolds in the second, and Dante in the third. In the first poem, ‘Keen, fitful gusts are whisp’ring here and there’, ice cold is paired with fire, or rather, the frosty desolation holds a blaze within. Stars that ‘look very cold about the sky’ four verses later turn into ‘silver lamps that burn on high’. There are also the ‘fitful gusts’, the ‘cool bleak air’, among ‘bushes half leafless’, ‘dead leaves rustling drearily’ through which the poet moves, pushed by a radiant inner flame, kindled by the thought of the ‘home’s pleasant lair’ and ‘brimful of the friendliness/ That in a little cottage I have found’, and nourished by poetry: reading about Milton’s ‘gentle Lycid drown’d’ and Petrarch’s ‘lovely Laura in her light green dress’. In this crossing of gelid aridity with ardour, of frost with fire, the sonnet and my drawing, paradoxically titled In Flames, [fig. 30] encounter each other. The second of the three sonnets is the most colouristic. In ‘Written in Answer to
1 John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Amore e fama [Love and Fame], Roma: Il Labirinto, 2006.


a Sonnet Ending Thus: Dark eyes are dearer far/ Than those that mock the hyacinthine bell’, Keats, in opposition to Reynolds, calls on the heavens, waters, and flowers to testify to the beauty of blue. But it is to the flowers, and in particular the violet, even if ‘mere shadow’ respect to the eye, that he entrusts its strongly symbolic finale; and it is with this symbol-shadow that my Violet as Shadow [fig. 31] (in which the echo of the ‘fast-fading violet’ in the ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is not extraneous) accords, almost as a coat-of-arms for an imaginary Keatsian floral heraldry. My third work, Vortex, [fig. 32] captures something of leaving behind the sleeping ‘dragon-world of all its hundred eyes,’ in Keats’s ‘A Dream, After Reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo and Francesca’, to float with kiss-engaged lips in that Second Circle of the Inferno, 32. ‘Vortex’ ‘Where ‘mid the gust, the whirlwind, and the flaw/ Of rain and hail-stones, lovers need not tell/ Their sorrows’. A shadow presence momentarily comes to the fore, hovering, caught in an unending vortex of light and shade. To conclude with a note on technique, the drawings were done using a grattage method. I like to see this as akin to an alchemic process that, starting with the nigredo – the pitch-dark layer of Chinese ink –, progresses (as in maniera nera etching) through the albedo, unleashing a new light, passages of grey, evanescent black, veiled white; without, nevertheless, losing the generative blackness. Nancy Watkins Rome, February 2012


ArtIst bIogrAPhIes
Bell, Robert Anning (1863-1933) was an English artist, book designer and illustrator. He was deeply involved in the organisation of major Arts and Crafts exhibitions in London, Paris, Brussels and Turin. Together with the sculptor George Frampton, with whom he shared a studio, he developed a line in hand-coloured plaster reliefs in imitation of Della Robbia plaques. Bell, whose Pre-Raphaelite influence is evident throughout his whole career, was a strong supporter of watercolour painting, knowledgeable about mosaic and one of the pioneers of the revival of the use of tempera. Buckland-Wright, John (1897-1954) was a self-taught artist from New Zealand who lived in Europe most of his life and worked with artists such as Brancusi, Miró, Picasso and Matisse. During the First World War he joined the Scottish Ambulance Service and was seconded to the French Army at Verdun, where he rescued wounded and dying soldiers from the front line trenches. Following the war, he found relief in drawing the nude female figure and nature, two subjects which expressed his belief in the renewal of life. His 1947 edition of Keats’s Endymion is generally considered to be his masterpiece. Burleigh, Averil (1883-1949) was a British painter and illustrator who was educated at the Brighton School of Art and regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1912 and 1945. A member of the Society of Women Artists, she was the wife of Charles Burleigh, a flower and landscape artist. Her work has been compared to that of Eleanor Fortesque-Brickdale but her elegant silhouettes and self-conscious anachronisms make her closer to the Art Nouveau style. Garrett, Edmund H. (1853–1929) was an American illustrator, bookplate-maker, and author, as well as a highly respected painter. During his lifetime he illustrated many books and publications, including works by Tennyson, Keats, Schiller, the Legends of King Arthur, Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, Ouida’s A Dog of Flanders, stories by Alexandre Dumas, various books of Elizabethan and Victorian songs and other books by Longfellow, Sir Walter Scott, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Hawthorne, among others.


Henry, Paul (1876-1958) was an Irish landscape painter whose fame was unparalleled among his peer-group in the 1920s and the 1930s. He moved from Belfast to Paris in 1898 to study art at the Académie Julian and at Whistler’s studio. From 1910 until 1919 he lived on Achill Island, where his work developed the post-Impressionist quality for which it is now known. One of his paintings was sold in 2006 for the astonishing price of €260.000 after having been given a value of approximately £40,000 - £60,000 by the BBC show The Antiques Roadshow. Joubert de la Ferté, Ferdinand Jean (1810-1884) was a skilled French engraver and photographer who lived in Britain as a refugee from Napoleonic France. In 1855 he became a British subject and from that year on his engravings were regularly displayed at the Royal Academy for about twenty-five years. He collaborated with the astronomer and chemist Warren De la Rue. King, Jessie Marion (1875–1949) was a Scottish painter and illustrator mostly of children’s books and also a designer of jewellery, wallpapers and fabrics. Her commissions include illustrations of William Morris’s The Defence of Guinevere and Other Poems and Oscar Wilde’s A House of Pomegranates. She was influenced by contemporary artists such as Aubrey Beardsley and old masters including Sandro Botticelli. In 1908 she married E. A. Taylor and they moved to Paris in 1911. Low, Will H. (1853-1932) was an American artist and illustrator who studied in Paris with Jean-Léon Gérôme and Carolus-Duran. He believed in the decorative purpose of art and applied his theory by means of a classicist style that was highly appreciated by critics and patrons. He was a long-term friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and their relationship was described by Low in A Chronicle of Friendships, 1873-1908. MacDougall, William Brown (1868-1936) was a British wood engraver, illustrator, painter and etcher. Born in Glasgow; he was educated in Paris and exhibited regularly at the Salon. He only worked for a limited period of time (1896-1898) as an illustrator, but his contributions to this form of art are quite remarkable: the decorative vignettes he made for The Fall of the Nibelungs (1897), Isabella, or the Pot of Basil (1898), and The Blessed Damozel (1898) combine Art Nouveau silhouettes and Arts and Crafts motifs. Murray, Charles Oliver (1842-1924) was one of the most renowned English reproduction etchers of his age. He was one of the founder-members of the Royal Society for Painter-Etchers and Engravers and from 1872 to 1924 he was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy, where he showed original works and etchings after popular contemporary artists like Lawrence Alma-Tadema.


Peters, Julian (born 1978) is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Montreal. In the past couple of years, he has focused primarily on adapting classic works of English and French literature into comics. He spent a great deal of his formative comic-bookreading years in a village on Lake Orta, in Piedmont, and the masters of Italian fumetti remain his biggest influences. Poynter, Sir Edward John (1836-1919) was one of the most successful and versatile Victorian painters. His most famous works include Faithful unto Death (1865), which portrays a soldier remaining at his post during the destruction of Pompeii, and The Catapult (1868), which shows all his skills in the representation of the nude male figure. The long list of titles he achieved during his long career includes that of President of the Royal Academy, President of the National Gallery and that of baronet. Savinio, Ruggero (born 1934) is a Rome-based artist and writer, son of Alberto Savinio and nephew of Giorgio De Chirico. As a painter he had his first one-man show in 1962 in Milan. He has exhibited his work in more than 100 private galleries in the world, as well as in public spaces, including the GNAM in Rome. Ruggero was awarded the Guggenheim Prize for an Italian Artist in 1986; in 1988 and 1995 he was awarded a one-person exhibit at the Venice Biennale; in 1993 he was commissioned to paint the prize flag for the Palio in Siena and in 1995 he was named as a member of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, the oldest Academy in the world. Seccombe, Thomas Strong (1840-1899) was a military painter and illustrator who became a Colonel of the Royal Artillery. He illustrated several children’s books and some period novels including Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg (1870) and The Story of Prince Hildebrand and the Princess Ida (1880). His lively imagination was best expressed through epic backgrounds, landscape painting and animal pictures (especially horses). Sullivan, Edmund Joseph (1869-1933) was a British book illustrator who worked in a style which merged the British tradition of illustrations from the 1860s with aspects of the Art Nouveau style. His work is comparable to Aubrey Beardsley’s, and he eventually developed a darker style featuring fantastic and grotesque figures. His most ambitious work is an illustrated edition of Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, published in 1898.


Sutton, Emily (born 1983) graduated in 2008 with a BA in Illustration from Edinburgh College of Art, having also studied at York college, and for a semester at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work incorporates a love of pattern and detail and is strongly influenced by the landscape and creatures of the Yorkshire countryside. A visit to the Museum of Folk Art in New York inspired her ongoing interest in folk art of all kinds, and she is also influenced by twentieth-century illustrators such as Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, and the American lithographed children’s books of the same era. Watkins, Nancy (born 1956) has exhibited in galleries and museums in Europe and North America. She is author of The Poet’s Room, Autoritratti Senza lo Specchio and Visite Notturne. Her work has been featured in many books of both classical and contemporary authors including Catullus, Marziale, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Palmery, Sicari, as well as on magazine covers and in special editions. Born in Chicago, she lives in Rome. Wehnert, Edward Henry (1813–1868) was an German painter of landscape, genre and historical subjects who was born in England and is now best remembered for his illustrations in books and magazines. Earlier in his career he taught a young John Everett Millais, with whom he kept in touch later in life, and his aesthetics was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His works were often displayed at the exhibitions of the New Society of Painters in Watercolour.


Index of IllustrAtIons
1. Edmund H. Garrett, ‘Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray’, John Keats, The Eve of St Agnes (Cambridge, USA: John Wilson and son, University Press, 1885). Mary Burr, Illustration for publication cover, John Keats, Ode to Psyche and Other Poems (London: Salt Publishing, 2009). Charles O. Murray, ‘Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees’, John Keats, The Eve of St Agnes (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1880). Edward H. Wehnert, ‘They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall’, John Keats, The Eve of St Agnes (New York: D. Appleton and co., 1856). Edmund H. Garrett, ‘My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!’, John Keats, The Eve of St. Agnes (Cambridge, USA: John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1885). Ferdinand Jean Joubert de la Ferté after Edward John Poynter, ‘Whence that completed form of all?’, John Keats and E. J. Poynter, Endymion (London: E. Moxon, son and co., 1873). Edmund Joseph Sullivan, ‘Diana and Endymion’, Keats (London, Edinburgh: T.C. & E. C. Jack, 1910). John Buckland Wright, ‘The Moonbeam’, John Keats, Endymion (London: Golden Cockerel Press, 1947). W. B. MacDougall, ‘In her tone and look he read the rest’, John Keats, Isabella; or the Pot of Basil (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and co., 1898). Robert Anning Bell, ‘Pale Isabella kiss’d it and low moan’d’, John Keats, Poems (London, New York: George Bell and Sons, 1897).

2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

7. 8. 9. 10.


11. 12.

Robert Anning Bell, ‘Pale Isabella kiss’d it and low moan’d’, John Keats, Poems (London, New York: George Bell and Sons, 1898). Jessie Marion King, ‘Today thou wilt not see him nor tomorrow/ And the next day will be a day of sorrow’, John Keats, Isabella; or the Pot of Basil (Edinburgh, London: T. N. Eoulis, 1907). Jessie Marion King, ‘If love impersonate was ever dead/ Pale Isabella kissed it and low-moaned’, John Keats, Isabella; or the Pot of Basil (Edinburgh, London: T. N. Eoulis, 1907). Paul Henry, ‘For cruel ‘tis said she/ To steal my Basil-pot from me’, John Keats, Isabella; or the Pot of Basil (London: John Lane, 1906). Robert Anning Bell, ‘While her robes flaunted with the daffodils’, John Keats, Poems (London, New York: George Bell and Sons, 1897). Will H. Low, ‘Swooned, murmuring of love, and pale with pain’, John Keats, Lamia (London: Hildesheimer & Faulkner, 1885). Will H. Low, ‘From high Olympus had he stolen light’, John Keats, Lamia (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1888). Averil Burleigh, ‘Hyperion arose’, The Poems of John Keats (London: Chapman & Hall Ltd, 1911). Thomas Seccombe, ‘While sometimes eagles’ wings’, John Keats, Poetical Works (Edited, with a critical memoir, by William Michael Rossetti, London: E. Moxon, Son, and co., 1872). Ruggero Savinio, original illustration for Hyperion, 2012. Julian Peters, ‘Full beautiful —a faery’s child’, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, independent comic, 2009. Will H. Low, ‘I set her on my pacing steed,/ And nothing else saw all day long’, John Keats, La Belle Dame Sans Merci (London: John Bumps, 1888).


14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

20. 21. 22.


23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32.

Averil Burleigh, ‘I saw pale kings, and princes too’, The Poems of John Keats (London: Chapman & Hall Ltd, 1911). Robert Anning Bell, ‘And there we slumber’d on the moss and there I dream’d’, John Keats, Poems (London, New York: George Bell and Sons, 1897) Robert Anning Bell, ‘I saw pale kings, and princes too/ Pale warriors, death-pale were they all’, John Keats, Poems (London, New York: George Bell and Sons, 1897). Will H. Low, ‘Two fair creatures couched side by side’, John Keats, Odes and Sonnets (London: John Bumps, 1888). Emily Sutton, Original lino-cut illustration for publication cover, John Keats, selected by Andrew Motion (London: Faber and Faber, 2011). Ruggero Savinio, Original illustration for publication cover, John Keats, Sulla fama e altri sonetti (Rome: Il Labirinto, 1997). John Buckland Wright, ‘[F]air the form/ I floated with, about that melancholy storm’, John Keats, Sonnets (Maastricht: The Halcyon Press, 1930). Nancy Watkins, ‘In Flames’, John Keats, Amore e fama (Rome: Il Labirinto, 2006.) Nancy Watkins, ‘Violet as Shadow’, John Keats, Amore e fama (Rome: Il Labirinto, 2006.) Nancy Watkins, ‘Vortex’, John Keats, Amore e fama (Rome: Il Labirinto, 2006.)