London, 1793-1879, Rome
A scene from the Tempest, Prospero and Ariel
Oil on canvas, unlined
76 x 64.1 cm.; 30 x 25 1/4 in.
The present painting shows Ariel in the second scene of Shakespeare’s The Tempest reporting to Prospero on his success in carrying out his command to shipwreck the King of Naples and his crew in a violent Tempest.
Severn began his career as an engraver’s apprentice and occasional student at the Royal Academy Schools where he won a gold medal for history painting in 1818. In 1820 he accompanied his sick friend John Keats to Italy. After Keats’s death in 1821, Severn remained in Rome where, thanks to the patronage of visitors and the British community, he soon became successful. His patrons eventually included W. E. Gladstone, Queen Victoria and Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. After a few years in London Severn returned to Italy where he had a turbulent spell as British Consul in Rome from 1861 to 1872. The artist was at the heart of the large British community in Rome, which included Ruskin, Walter Scott, Turner and Samuel Palmer among others.
Lord Houghton, Lady Mary’s grand-father, owned several works by Joseph Severn, including Una Seizing the Dagger from the Despairing Red Cross Knight (1819), for which the artist was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Academy, and his famous portrait of John Keats, whose original version is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (1821).