The Death of Chatterton, painted in 1856 by Henry Wallis, helped to solidify Thomas Chatterton's posthumous reputation as the ultimate doomed poet.
Chatterton, born in Bristol into relative poverty, was a gifted writer from a very early age. Finding escapism in the architecture and ornamentation of churches and cathedrals, he began writing faux Medieval poems. Aged 16, Chatterton claimed to have discovered a previously unseen collection of poetry written by a 15thC monk named Thomas Rowley. In fact, Chatterton had written the poems himself using Middle English, and disguised his handwriting as Medieval script. The Rowley poems were revealed to be forgeries by Horace Walpole, who Chatterton had hoped would print the works. Chatterton moved to London to find an outlet for his literary aspirations, but struggled to earn money, have his work published, or gain patronage. He was found dead in his attic lodgings in August 1770, aged just 17, following an apparently suicidal overdose.
Wallis's painting, together with later poets such as Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth writing romantic, fictionalised accounts of him in their work, led to Chatterton coming to represent the archetypal tortured genius. However, rather than being a neglected prodigy whose talent was too much for him, it is now thought that Chatterton's death is most likely to have been caused by an accidental cocktail of arsenic - which he was taking to treat venereal disease - and laudanum - an opiate commonly taken at the time as a sleeping aid and painkiller.
#thedeathofchatterton #preraphaelites #thomaschatterton #doomedpoet #19thcenturypainting #greatpaintings #henrywallis #englishpoetry #historyfacts #suicide #torturedgenius #poet #englishliterature #englishhistory #famouspainting