Roses of Remembrance: Celebrating John Keats

John Keats, by Joseph Severn, 1819 - NPG 1605 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
John Keats by Joseph Severn. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London.

The month of February brings with it not only Valentine’s Day, but also the anniversary of the death of one of the most beloved and celebrated poets of Romanticism: John Keats. In honor of this, we will take a look at Keats’ life through one of the books in Rose’s personal collection, titled, “Roses of Romance: from the poems of John Keats.”

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The cover of Roses of Romance.

John Keats was born in October 1795 in London, England; he became the eldest of five children to Thomas and Franny Keats. From an early age, Keats appreciated literature, but he studied and earned a license in medicine in July of 1816, the month after his first published poem appeared in Examiner’s magazine. Keats befriended many of his literary idols before and during the six years he took up writing as his livelihood. While Keats’ poetry was ill-received during his lifetime; his fame and celebrated status arose during the Victorian era, thanks to the praises of such figures as Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites. [1]

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Illustration featured in Roses of Romance.

In 1820, Keats began to suffer episodes of blood-spitting and heart palpitations, knowing that he likely had the same tuberculosis that killed his mother, brother, and uncle, his doctor ordered him to Italy. An ill Keats left England on October 2, 1820, arrived in Naples on October 21st, and reached his final destination of Rome on November 15, 1820. Keats succumbed to his illness on February 23, 1821. He is buried at the protestant cemetery in Rome. [2]

Roses of Romance was published by Roberts Brothers in Boston in 1891. This edition of Keats poems features poems “selected and illustrated by” Edmund Henry Garrett. Garrett was a prolific illustrator of famous poems, novels, stories, and song books, creating bookplates and illustrations for works by major authors. [3]

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Illustration from Roses of Romance.

Garrett was also an artist, and his work can be seen in local institutions such as the Boston Public Library, the Winchester Public Library, and the Massachusetts State House. Thus, this book in Rose’s collection contains the work of two notable artists.

Roses of Romance features four of Keats’ most notable narrative poems, written between 1817 and 1819. La Belle Dame Sans Merci‘ is the shortest of the four poems featured in this book. ‘Lamia,’ ‘The Eve of St. Agnes,’ and ‘Isabella‘ are of a length more typical of narrative poetry. All four feature Keats’ distinct poetic style.

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Roma- Piazza di Spagna. Postcard from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection. 
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“Rome. March 7th. It was good of you to write me when you were so ill.”

As we explored in last month’s blog, Rose traveled to Italy rather frequently gathering research for her own gardens and book. These postcards above are from Rose’s astounding postcard collection. They show the Piazza di Spagna, where Keats lodged during his short stay in Italy, and a temple in Rome, the city where Keats was laid to rest. [4]

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Excerpt of a stanza from ‘Isabella; or, the Pot of Basil.’

Notes

[1] “Keats, John (1795–1821),” Kelvin Everest in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eee ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, May 2006.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Edmund Henry Garrett.” In Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography in Context.

[4] “Keats, John (1795–1821),” Kelvin Everest in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eee ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004); online ed., ed. David Cannadine, May 2006.

 

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate.

 

 

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“Lady in Rose Colored Robe”

In celebration of the Chinese New Year, we are exploring a set of four Chinese export paintings which adorn the walls of Rose Standish Nichols’ library. Often asked about by visitors, these eglomisé panels are popular objects in the Nichols House Museum. Eglomisé is a French term for the decorative technique of reverse painting on glass. These early nineteenth paintings are remnants of the Ch’ien-lung period (Ch’ing Dynasty, 1644-1912) produced for western export trade.

Direct trade between Europe and China began in 1517 when Manuel I of Portugal dispatched an embassy to Peking.[1] Commercial interests in China spread throughout Europe and by the nineteenth century, America had surpassed Europe in trade.[2] A cross-pollination of art and ideas across continents occurred and as a result, Asian export art became popularized.

Much of the art being produced in China at this time was intended for export. Chinese artists and makers anticipated the aesthetic values of European and American consumers. Both the anglicized faces of the women in these paintings and the eglomisé technique evidence this approach to selling Asian art on a western buyer’s market. This was, in essence, art for the foreigner:“Meeting the enthusiastic demand for colorful paintings, numerous studios were set up in Canton where foreign trade flourished and businessmen and merchants from around the world converged.”[3]

The luxurious dress and flirtatious smiles of these women would have been considered highly suggestive when the paintings were first created. Physical allure has been a central focus in depicting women in art across all cultures. In China, the visual culture of the region produced varying images of women in accordance with the fashions, aesthetics and concepts of beauty.[4]

Rose Standish Nichols purchased these paintings in 1941 from Yamanaka and Company Inc., a Japanese firm located at 424 Boylston Street, Boston. These paintings ranged in price from $17.50 to $35.00 at the time of their purchase.

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Receipt from 1941 purchase of eglomisé painting

 

Although she was extremely well-traveled, Rose never visited any Asian countries. Even still, her appreciation for Asian culture is evident throughout the Nichols House. Chinese export porcelain was incredibly prolific during the 18th and 19th centuries and the museum houses some beautiful pieces. The porcelain “slop” bowl shown here (ca. 1780-1800) is an excellent example of Chinese export porcelain in the Nichols House collection.

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Chinese export porcelain slop bowl, ca. 1780-1800

A slop bowl was a component of the traditional tea set. Early uses included emptying undrunk cold tea into the slop bowl before refilling the cup with fresh, hot tea. This slop bowl depicts a European scene of three children fishing against a background of trees and a parish church. Like the eglomisé paintings, the imagery demonstrates how Chinese artists were assimilating western culture in their work.

Rose’s postcard collection also reveals her interests in Chinese culture.

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Rose’s collection of over 1200 postcards speaks to her love of travel and curious personality. Born in 1872 under the Year of the Monkey, Rose is characterized as curious, quick-witted and intelligent. Happy Chinese New Year from the Nichols House Museum, Year of the Rooster!

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Nichols House Museum library, ca. 1940-1960.

[1] Palmer, Arlene M. 1976. A Winterthur guide to Chinese export porcelain. n.p.: New York : Crown, 1976: 10.

[2] Ibid, 11.

[3] Till, Barry and Paula Swart. “Art for the Foreigner: 19th Century Chinese Export Paintings from the Collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.” Arts Of Asia 45, no. 4 (n.d.):, 111.

[4] “Court Ladies or Pin-Up Girls?” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. March 09, 2015. Accessed February 02, 2017. http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/court-ladies-or-pin-up-girls.

By Laura Cunningham, Collections Inventory Associate