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Portraits & Media

'Portraits' of Chatterton

Engravings - Paintings - Sketches - Descriptions

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Breaking News: Unknown Portrait of Chatterton up for auction 

I love it regardless of the truth of it. It is another example of the fame of our own wonderful young poet. 

However, the only ‘proof’ of its veracity is the writing on the back of the frame which is inscribed as follows : 

'Thomas Chatterton, The Poet, when a boy.'

This ‘portrait’ has been be added to the list. One thing we do know is that Chatterton followers have been searching for a portrait since the day he became famous - indeed they were looking when his sister was still alive and surely she would have stated if a portrait existed.  I regret that there is no provenance, however, as the owner of a piece of rusty metal, which was claimed to be a part of the famous 'Canynges Coffer,'  I would consider making a bid simply for the fun and romance of it !

The auction is scheduled for the 20th March, at Cheffins the Auctioneer : View

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1.   Thomas Chatterton? 1797

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4.   Thomas Chatterton?  

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7.   Thomas Chatterton?

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2.   Thomas Chatterton?  1837?

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5.   Thomas Chatterton?

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8.  Thomas Chatterton?   

Christie's 2005

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3.   Thomas Chatterton? 1837

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6.   Thomas Chatterton?

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9.   Thomas Chatterton?

By Gainsborough?

I am currently working on a control page for each of the above portraits.  Click a portrait above for a link to a control  page containing our current knowledge.  Working on this February 2024.

There are a lot of fanciful representations of Chatterton.  The 'Goggle Eyes' image (no. 1 above), is from The Monthly Visitor in 1797.  It is, to my knowledge, the first time a supposed portrait of Chatterton appeared in print, but without any provenance.  It seems to me that the artist was exaggerating the eyes, based on the claim that Chatterton had eyes that blazed, especially the left eye.

It is worth noting the similarities between this portrait and the supposed portrait of Chatterton (no. 3 above) in Dix's 1837 edition of 'The Life of Thomas Chatterton' ; perchance it shows that the portrait in Dix is, to some degree, derivative.

Dix had the right idea when he included the portrait in his 1837 edition, as it always helps to be able to put a face to a name - which makes Chatterton less abstract. For this reason I will use portrait number 2, which is the original painting that the engraving in Dix was based on.  The Dix engraved portrait, has become the standard image used since 1837, even though it was proven to be a forgery perpetrated by Dix himself and, according to Mr Hake, a past Keeper of the National Portrait Gallery, it "Persists as a Popular Representation of the Poet."    So, as far as the Chatterton Manuscript Project is concerned, portrait no. 2, is Chatterton's 'Shakespeare bust'. 

I should add that I agree with Meyerstein's definitive statement : View, that there are no known authentic paintings or engravings of Chatterton.

However, we do have a handy description of Chatterton. It was written by William Seward on the endpapers of an edition of Gregory's The Life of Chatterton (1789).  The book was bought at auction by  J. T. Rutt and published by him in a letter to The Monthly Repository for 1809, it then went missing until rediscovered at another auction in 2018.  

 

We also have a couple of descriptions by Chatterton's sister, Mary ; one of which she related to W. H.Ireland and the other by letter to Sir Herbert Croft, both are a joy. 

  • Word Portraits of Famous Writers.  Edited by Mabel E. Wotton, 1887  :  View

The question is, do any of the descriptions point to a specific image?   Probably not, but I welcome the views of my readers.

The Infamous Dix  'Portrait' of Chatterton

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Click an image to see a close-up view

A rare postcard with Chatterton's 'Portrait.'  The same image was used by Dix as a frontispiece in the first edition of his book, The Life of Thomas Chatterton.'  The postcard has a space for a 1/2d stamp, which dates the card to around 1894  :  View

The rear of the card has a transcript of a letter written by George Burge, which claims the portrait is of a boy named F. Morris, aged 13, the son of the Artist.

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4.   Thomas Chatterton?  

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John Eagles 

When I first saw the portrait of John Eagles, above, I was struck by the similarities of his facial profile when compared to Chatterton's 'portrait' No. 4.  A coincidence creeps in when you know that John Eagles' father, Thomas Eagles, was a friend of George Catcott.  I have much more to add here but I am sidetracked elsewhere at the moment, Feb 2024.

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A life size model in wax.

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Statue of Chatterton that stood outside St Mary Redcliffe

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Colston Boy . Bristol

Probably a copy of the original 

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