Research into the collection of drawings by John Constable (1776-1837) at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) has revealed another portrait of a literary giant: Lord Byron.
The pencil sketch was rapidly executed on a pocket-sized piece of paper (about 9 x 6 cm) and bears a strong resemblance to contemporary portraits of the infamous Lord Byron (1788-1824). Its discovery follows one of William Wordsworth last year.
A tantalising letter by Constable, written to his wife-to-be on 13 May 1813, may also tell us when and where the sketch was made. The artist had been invited to a grand dinner at the British Institution in London where a posthumous exhibition of works by Sir Joshua Reynolds was being held:
“Lord Byron was pointed out to me; I was anxious for this sight of him; his poetry is of the most melancholy kind but there is great ability…”
Byron was forced to quit English society for the continent in 1816, following several scandalous affairs, a disastrous marriage, and allegations of sodomy and incest. By May 1824 news of his early death in Greece had reached England and
Constable had clearly changed his opinion of the poet: “The world is rid of Lord Byron, but the deadly slime of his touch still remains.”
The portrait of Lord Byron will be on display when RAMM reopens on December 15 after its multimillion pound redevelopment.