Any subject of interest can be explored on the Art UK and sometimes a search returns surprising results. Searchability will continue to improve as the tagging process brings results.
With an interest in poetry, I typed ‘poet’ into the search field and was delighted to see a painting of John Clare by Thomas Grimshaw, then one of Chaucer painted in the early seventeenth century by an unknown artist, and one of William Morris, described as a poet and craftsman, by Henry Rushbury. I was surprised to see Morris in the selection, as I hadn’t realised that he was a literary man as well as an artist. There were several poets I had never heard of, such as Caleb Whitefoord, who is described as a wit and satirical poet. I now have a list of names and am looking forward to doing some research.
There is also James Kirkup in the collection of Leeds University. Kirkup was the first Gregory Fellow at the university and thus the first ‘writer in residence’ at any university in the United Kingdom. He also has the dubious honour of having written the poem The Love that Dares to Speak its Name, which resulted in the last successful British prosecution for blasphemy in 1977. There is a portrait of the Welsh poet R. S. Thomas by Jack Jones, in the collection The National Library of Wales. W. B. Yeats, by Augustus John, can also be seen on Art UK. Most images are of male poets, but I remember photographing the wonderful painting of Sappho by James Nevay in Burton Constable Hall, East Riding of Yorkshire, and am glad that so many people are now able to see her.
I suspect that anyone looking into something particular will be surprised by the differences in how artists depicted their subject throughout the centuries. There were a number of varying themes on the subject ‘poet’, including several with rather dour titles such as Death of the Poet and Funeral of the Poet and quite often the poet seems to be ‘wandering’. Sometimes they are painted with their muses (usually female), although I was surprised to see several paintings of Fanny Keats, sister of John, who is also depicted in the painting Keats Listening to a Nightingale on Hampstead Heath by Joseph Severn.
My quick search confirmed that Art UK can return fascinating results and can lead on to further unexpected areas of interest.
Hazel Buchan Cameron, Former Art UK Paintings Project Coordinator