Flowers from John Keats' grave feature in art installation

Elaine Duigenan's installation at Keats House Hampstead

Elaine Duigenan's installation at Keats House Hampstead - Credit: Elaine Duigenan

Pressed flowers from John Keats' grave and former Hampstead home feature in a moving art installation commemorating the bicentenary of his death.

Created by last year's Keats House artist in residence Elaine Duigenan, the floral tributes at the museum in Keats Grove can be seen when it reopens to visitors from May 17. They include an installation of daisies in the poet's former bedroom, and portraits made from photographs of a bust and life mask entwined with violets and laurels.

Elaine Duigenan's installation at Keats House

Elaine Duigenan's installation at Keats House - Credit: Elaine Duigenan

Duigenan, who works with objects and still life, took inspiration from the role that flowers played in the poet's life as well as ideas of death, immortality, frailty and resilience that resonate in his verse. Before he became a writer, Keats studied apothecary for four years at a time when plants were vital for medical treatment.

His verse is also filled with floral metaphors. As he lay dying in Rome of tuberculosis, the 25-year-old asked his friend Joseph Severn about the cemetery where he would be buried. Severn reported that it was blooming with daisies and violets, prompting Keats to reply that he could already feel them growing over him. The coffered ceiling in the room where he lay dying was also decorated with daisies, and he is buried with a gravestone bearing his self-penned epitaph about dying in obscurity 'Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ in Water'. 

An image of John Keats crowned as a laureate

An image of John Keats crowned as a laureate - Credit: Elaine Duigenan

Duigenan says: “Flowers are embedded in John Keats’s life story and are a vehicle for expressing something both transitory and lasting, and my installation seeks to honour his legacy by alluding to human frailty and resilience. As an artist, I understand both the desire for recognition and the fear of leaving no mark, so I have crowned him laureate and wreathed him as though for oblivion.”

Keats wrote many of his famous poems while living in what was then Wentworth Place from 1818 to 1820. He fell in love with neighbour Fanny Brawne who is also referenced in Duigenan's artworks.

An image of Keats' love Fanny Brawne

An image of Keats' love Fanny Brawne - Credit: Elaine Duigenan

Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, Wendy Hyde, said: “One of the major aims of the Keats200 bicentenary has been to bring the life and works of Keats to contemporary audiences, and to inspire new creative works. Elaine’s artwork connects us emotionally with the beauty and sadness in Keats’s letters and poems, allowing us to experience his life and writing in a way which is powerfully meaningful to us today.”

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