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Joseph Severn Watercolors

Finding Aid & Inventory

Joseph Severn (1793-1879) was a painter and friend of John Keats. This collection contains three pencil and watercolor images by Joseph Severn, noted as being done on his way to Rome with John Keats.

Biographical and Historical Note

Joseph Severn (December 7, 1793–August 3, 1879) was an English portrait and subject painter and a personal friend of the famous English poet John Keats. He exhibited portraits, Italian genre, literary and biblical subjects, and a selection of his paintings can today be found in museums including the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Tate Britain.

Severn, born in Hoxton, England, was the son of a music teacher and one of seven children. In 1815, Severn was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in London and exhibited his first work in the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1819. In 1819, Severn was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Academy 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. It was the first time the prize had been awarded in eight years and the painting was exhibited at the Academy in 1820. This award also allowed Severn to apply for a three years' traveling studentship, paid for by the Royal Academy.

On 17 September 1820, Severn set sail onboard the Maria Crowther from England to Italy with the famous English poet John Keats. Keats and Severn had known one another in England, and Severn agreed to accompany the poet to Rome using his traveling studentship from the Royal Academy. The trip was intended to cure Keats's lingering illness, which he suspected was tuberculosis; however, his friends and several doctors disagreed and urged him to spend some time in a warm climate. After a harrowing voyage, they arrived in the Bay of Naples on 21 October, only to be placed in quarantine for ten days. The two men remained in Naples for a week before heading off to Rome in a small carriage, where they arrived mid-November 1820 and met Keats's physician, Dr. James Clark. In Rome they lived in an apartment at number 26 Piazza di Spagna, just at the bottom right of the Spanish Steps and overlooking Bernini's famous Barcaccia fountain. Severn nursed Keats until his death on 23 February 1821, three months after they had arrived in Rome.

Severn launched his own successful artistic career soon after Keats died, becoming a versatile painter in Rome during the 1820s and 1830s. He painted miniatures and altarpieces, landscapes and frescoes, historical and religious scenes, and subjects from the Bible, Greek mythology and Shakespeare. His pictures of Italian peasant life and pastoral genre scenes became very popular with British visitors on the continent and generated multiple commissions for his work. Severn was also instrumental in helping to found the British Academy of the Fine Arts in Rome. In 1861 Severn was appointed British Consul in Rome during the ferment over Italian unification. He eventually retired as Consul in 1872.

Severn died on 3 August 1879 at the age of 85, and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery alongside John Keats.

Source: "Joseph Severn." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Severn

Collection Overview

After ending his work as British Consul in Rome, the young painter Joseph Severn arrived in Italy's capital in November 1820 with the poet John Keats. To Severn's distress, Keats died at their villa near the Spanish Steps three months later. The aspiring history painter nevertheless stayed in Rome where, with his knowledge of Italian, sociable manner and personal charm, he prospered in the art market and co-founded the British Academy in Rome. He exhibited portraits, Italian genre, literary and biblical subjects, and a selection of his paintings can today be found in museums including the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Tate Britain.

The collection's three pencil and watercolors of scenery are identified as being done on a trip to Italy with poet John Keats. Images are pasted to light construction paper (appears that one image has been cut out). Sizes are roughly 4x7 (2) and 5x9.

Summary Information

Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives
Creator - cre
Severn, Joseph, 1793-1879
Joseph Severn Watercolors
Date [inclusive]
0.1 Linear Feet  1 pamphlet binder
Graphic Materials [item]

Administrative Information

Publication Information
Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives
Access Restriction
Access to these images are restricted. Please email archives@wfu.edu with questions. 
Copyright Notice
The nature of the WFU Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. The Archives and Special Collections of ZSR Library claims only physical ownership of most materials. The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to the U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. 
Preferred Citation
Joseph Severn Watercolors (MS651), Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. 

Controlled Access Headings


For digitized materials, please visit our Joseph Severn Watercolors collection.

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