Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) Historical Painter and Diarist

Dedicated artist Benjamin Robert Haydon’s celebrated portrait of his friend William Wordsworth hangs in our National Portrait Gallery:

Haydon himself inspired sonnets by Keats, Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett. With characteristic passion and against strong opposition, he championed the authenticity of the newly-arrived Elgin Marbles.

A drawing by BR Haydon from the Elgin Marbles, British Museum:

“I used to go down at night and bribe the porter at Burlington House, to which the Marbles were now removed” (from Lord Elgin’s shed in Park Lane, 1810) “to lend me a lantern, and then locking myself in, take my candle and make different sketches….may they take deep root in my nature’ may their spirit be interwoven with my soul……”

Detail from THE MOCK ELECTION, B.R. Haydon:

Haydon’s huge historical pictures, THE JUDGMENT OF SOLOMON, CHRIST’S ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM, and THE RAISING OF LAZARUS brought acclaim in his lifetime. Today they are rolled and stored in museums and galleries. One spent years in a billiard saloon. But his Hogarthian prison scene, “The Mock Election”, was purchased by King George IV and hangs today in Tate Britain.Today Haydon is known less for his works than for his vivid, splenetic and highly entertaining diaries…


“After her first reading, we all retired to tea. While we were all crunching toast, she began again. It was like the effect of a mass bell at Madrid. We slunk to our seats with the very toast in our mouths, afraid to bite. It was curious to see Thomas Lawrence; to hear him bite by degrees, for fear of making too much crackle…..”

                     ON HIS TEACHER HENRY FUSELI

“Being too vain to wear glasses, he used to dab his beastly brush into the oil, then take up a great lump of white, red or blue and plaster it over a shoulder or face. Sometimes he would put a hideous smear of Prussian blue in his flesh, then take a bit of red to deaden it and then say “By God, dat’s a fine purple! It’s vary like Corregio, by Gode!” 

The story of Haydon’s life is a uniquely moving tragi- comedy. “Heestorical peinter? Why ye’ll starve wi’ a bundle of straw under yer heed!”
Sir James Northcote, portrait artist

With paintings and drawings by artists of the early 19th century including Turner, Fuseli, David Wilkie and B.R. Haydon.