Algernon Charles Swinburne. William Bell Scott. 1860. Oil on canvas. 47 3/4 x 31.7 inches. Click on image to enlarge it.

"'The most extragantly artistic alive in the world today' was Guy de Maupassant's opinion of Swinburne. This portrait showing Swinburne standing before the wild seas off the Northumberland coast with he so strongly identified, captures the young poet's mercurial temperament." — Lionel Lambourne, p. 11

Scott first met Swinburne in 1855 at Wallington Hall where he was a guest of the Trevelyan’s. The Swinburne family home Capheaton bordered the Wallington estate and the Swinburne and Trevelyan families were longstanding acquaintances. Swinburne was introduced into the Pre-Raphaelite circle in 1857 when he was an undergraduate at Balliol and met D. G. Rossetti and the other artists involved in the “Jovial Campaign” to decorate the Oxford Union Debating Hall. In 1859 Scott and Swinburne stayed together at Wallington Hall and travelled to the Longstone lighthouse located on Longstone Rock in the outer group of the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland. This trip proved the inspiration for this portrait with its seascape background that was started in the first months of 1860. In 1862 Rossetti moved to Tudor House in Chelsea and Swinburne became a joint tenant. Swinburne wrote a substantial portion of the poems published in his Poems and Ballads in 1866 while staying at Tudor House.

[Scott's portrait, one should add, is also quite prescient, since the poet, who did not publish his first volume of poems until six years after he sat for the painter, only published his most famous philosphical landscape medidations, such as "Evening on the Broads" and "By the North Sea," decades later. — George P. Landow]

After Scott’s death and the publication of his Autobiographical Notes Swinburne, even more vehemently than W. M. Rossetti, repudiated his former friendship with Scott. Swinburne described him as a man “whose name would have never been heard, whose verse would never have been read, whose daubs would never have been seen outside some aesthetic Lilliput of the North, but for his casual and parasitic association with the Trevelyans, the Rossetti’s and myself.” (Fredeman,35-36.)


Lambourne, Lionel. The Aesthetic Movement. London: Phaidon, 1996.

Fredeman, William E. “A Pre-Raphaelite Gazette: The Penkill Letters of Arthur Hughes to William Bell Scott and Alice Boyd, 1886-1897.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, 50, No. 1, (1967).

Last modified 26 January 2007