Auctions | October 28, 2013

Last Portrait of Samuel Taylor Coleridge for Sale at Bonhams

The last known portrait of the famous English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is to be sold at Bonhams sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs in London on 12 November. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000. 

The pencil portrait was drawn from life at Highgate in the autumn of 1833 by the young itinerant Belgian artist, J Kayser. Coleridge took a shine to the painter, who had a reputation for being youthfully arrogant.

He wrote a poem for him which ends:

“Well hast thou given the thoughtful Poet's face!

Yet hast thou on the tablet of his mind

A more delightful portrait left behind—

Even thy own youthful beauty, and artless grace,

Thy natural gladness and eyes bright with glee!

Kayser! farewell!

Be wise! be happy! and forget not me.”

In private Coleridge was less effusive about the portrait itself which he did not really like partly because it made him look old and partly because his friends persuaded him that it was not very good. Writing to the engraver E.F. Finden he wrote, “a Likeness, certainly, but with such unhappy Density of the Nose & idiotic Drooping of the Lip, with a certain pervading Wooden[n]ess of the whole Countenance, that it has not been thought Guilty of any great Flattery by Mr Coleridge's Friends."

Although a further drawing of Coleridge was made before his death in July 1834 for a published engraving, the original has never been traced  making this the final surviving portrait. It is only one of three known Coleridge portraits to remain in private hands.

In all, there are 28 lots associated with Coleridge and his family in the sale and this is likely to be the last opportunity to acquire major pieces associated with the poet. Also included is the only known portrait of Coleridge's wife Sara, drawn in the summer of 1809 at Greta Hall, Grasmere, where she and her daughter—also called Sara—were living with her sister, Robert Southey's wife Edith, and their family, following her final separation from Coleridge the year before. It is estimated at £8,000-10,000 and a miniature of the daughter Sara—the Coleridge’s fourth child, painted when she was five and a half and had just been abandoned by her father—is estimated at £3,000-4,000.