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Originally posted on HistoryLondon.

Was it something in the water? Wandering around the City of London’s Square Mile I have been surprised to learn that five of England’s greatest poets were born here, within a few hundred yards of each other, in a concentration of poetic genius I would hazard is not surpassed anywhere else in the world.

The lives of the five: John Milton, Alexander Pope, Thomas Gray, John Keats and Thomas Hood, occupied a key period of about 250 years of London’s history from 1600 to 1850. Their poetic styles were very different, and none of them, except perhaps Hood, is remembered particularly as a London writer, but I thought it would be interesting to find out what they had to say about their home city.

In 1608, John Milton was born an unquestioned Cockney, in Bread Street just three houses south of Cheapside and the…

via Five Cockney Poets | HistoryLondon.

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Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST

enchanted castleClaude Lorrain, Landscape with Psyche outside the Palace of Cupid, 1664
National Gallery. Image source: National Gallery

“You know the Enchanted Castle, – it doth stand / Upon a rock, on the border of a Lake, /
Nested in trees….” (Epistle to Reynolds)

(FINAL) PART EIGHT

Claude’s Landscape with Psyche outside the Palace of Cupid, inspired by Apuleius’sstory, which Keats sourced for his Ode to Psyche, is a late work of the painter’s, an elegant baroque fantasy with less than the usual “incessant observation of nature” and quality of “Brightness [that] was the excellence of Claude, brightness independent on colour…the evanescent character of light”[1] that Constable valued above all other artistic attributes.

The picture’s shortcomings, its dark, sleeping stillness, as if waiting for someone to step in and breathe life into it, gave literary advantages to Keats. The glimpse of the stone…

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Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST

“…..every man whose soul is not a clod
Hath visions, and would speak, if he had loved
And been well nurtured in his mother tongue.”
(Keats, The Fall of Hyperion – A Dream)

turner sunriseTurner, Norham Castle Sunrise, 1845, Oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London. Image source: WGA
“Oh God, not another f******* beautiful day”. (Alice de Janzé quoted in White Mischief, novel by James Fox, 1982, and in the film adaptation, 1987, screenplay by
Michael Radford and Jonathan Gems.)

At the climax of Hyperion, tremors are passing through golden-haired Apollo’s classically beautiful body like electric shocks . He shrieks while “Creations and destroyings, all at once / Pour into the wide hollows of my brain”. Empathizing with all this random suffering and emotion is too much for a god to bear, let alone an artist or poet, striving to render teeming images exactly as they were when originally experienced.

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Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST

sunsetBonington, Sunset in the Pays de Caux, 1828, watercolour. Wallace Collection, London. Image source: WGA
Delacroix praised his long dead friend Bonington’s “astonishing ability”, “that  lightness of touch which, especially in watercolors, makes his works a type of diamond which flatters and ravishes the eye, independently of any subject and any imitation.” [1]

Richard Parkes Bonington has been called “the Keats of painting” – if only it were that simple, we could wrap this up now in relief. Yet another marvellous boy, his vivid output and early, painful death of tuberculosis aged 25 resemble Keats’ own art and life. There’s poetry in Bonington’s brushwork, the liquid freshness of colours, the delight in shadow and light. His technical genius was in hiding technique, so that with him all the spontaneity for which other Romantics strove looks effortless. His pictures are more than just pretty; he was a painter’s painter, loved…

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Pippa Rathborne's SCRATCH POST

Thomas-Lawrence croftSir Thomas Lawrence, (Isabella) Mrs. Jens Wolff, painted 1803 – 1815.  © The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection.

She sits in profile, rapturously contemplating an art book, brightly illuminated by a hanging lamp, the dark mysterious recesses of an arch behind her. An artist wants a picture to tell its own story; but we, the viewers, the readers, the audience, we lap up gossipy biographical details that add to our emotional titillation. Lawrence and the willowy, poised divorcee, with her distinguished aquiline features and slim modern figure, her intelligent expression and taste in contemporary and Renaissance art (her rapture is ostensibly aroused by studying Michelangelo, not by her consciousness of being studied herself) were bound in a relationship that lasted till his death.

Part Four of THE CHARACTER OF LIGHT

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