Samuel Taylor Coleridge by James Northcote

James Northcote19th Century

Wordsworth Grasmere

Wordsworth Grasmere

This portrait shows the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge aged 32. There is a portrait similar at Jesus College, Cambridge, though this may well be the original of the two. Robert Southey referred to one of them as showing Coleridge ‘grinning’, which is more likely to be this version. Coleridge’s appearance dramatically altered throughout his lifetime due to illness and drug addiction. In June 1797 Dorothy Wordsworth had described Coleridge to Mary Hutchinson saying: ‘He is a wonderful man... he is pale and thin, has a wide mouth, thick lips and not very good teeth, longish, loose-growing half-curling rough black hair. But if you hear him speak for five minutes you think no more of them. His eye is large and full, not dark but grey; such an eye as would receive from a heavy soul the dullest expression; but it speaks of every emotion of his animated mind; it has more of the ‘poet’s eye in fine frenzy rolling’ that I ever witnessed. He has fine dark eyebrows, and an overhanging forehead.’ Thomas De Quincey later described the changes to Coleridge’s appearance as opium addiction began to have a dramatic impact: ‘Coleridge’s face, as is well known to his acquaintances, exposed a large surface of cheek; too large for the intellectual expression of his features general, had not the final effect been redeemed why what Wordsworth styled his ‘godlike forehead’. The result was that no possible face so broadly betrayed and published any effects whatever, especially these lustrous effects from excesses of opium. For some years I failed to consider reflectively, or else, reflecting, I failed to decipher, this resplendent acreage of cheek. But at last, either proprio matre, or prompted by some medical hint, I came to understand that the glistening face, glorious from afar like the old Pagan face of the demigod Æsculapius, simply reported the gathering accumulation of insensible perspiration.’ The portrait was acquired by the Wordsworth Trust in 1986.


  • Title: Samuel Taylor Coleridge by James Northcote
  • Creator: James Northcote
  • Date Created: 19th Century
  • Physical Dimensions: 762 x 635mm
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Wordsworth Trust
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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