200 year since the death of John Keats

Around the world their admirers are marking the deaths of John Keats in 1821 and of Percy Bysshe Shelley the following year.

A hundred years ago the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association organised events at the Keats-Shelley House and at the grave. Its leaders in Rome – Robert Underwood Johnson, Sir Rennell Rodd and Harry Nelson Gay – presided and Kenneth Grahame, author of the classic Wind in the Willows, was invited to speak. The ceremony at the grave took place at 11.00am on 25 February 1921. Two months later the French writer Henri Buriot-Darsiles visited the grave and saw wreaths there from the City of Rome and from the Royal Society for Literature which had been founded a year before Keats’s death.

By strange coincidence, a small auction-house in Berne recently offered an oil painting entitled “Keats’s grave, Rome” (John McGuigan kindly alerted me to it). It is signed “C. Earle”, presumably Charles Earle (1831-1893), a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colour. Unlike other paintings of the grave, the artist has chosen the ‘classic view’ of the Old Cemetery and highlighted the distant gravestone, making it appear nearer than it is in reality.

A white sheen distinguishes the stone as if possessing a special aura. In the foreground a shepherd with his flock gazes in awe. Earle produced a number of watercolours of Roman scenes, the few that are dated ranging between 1863 and 1884. In this oil painting he has shown Severn’s headstone next to Keats’s and also, by interrupting the line of the perimeter wall, the small gravestone of Arthur Severn in its original position in front of his father’s. The painting must therefore post-date 1882, a work from late in the artist’s life. At the Berne auction it failed to attract any other bidders and is now in Rome.

Nicholas Stanley-Price

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