spacer Thomas Stearns (T. S.) Eliot Thomas Stearns (T. S.) Eliot

After reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which the St. Louis born T. S. Eliot had composed a few years before settling in England, fellow poet Ezra Pound pronounced it the best poem by an American that he had ever read. In 1922 this high regard for Eliot's talent became widespread with the publication of The Waste Land. The work established Eliot, who became a British citizen in 1927, as a poet of the first rank on both sides of the Atlantic. Later, he also achieved eminence as a literary critic and playwright. Both Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and Cocktail Party (1949) were huge theatrical successes.

Eliot had known Sir Gerald Kelly, a fashionable portraitist since the 1920s, for some years before he began posing for his portrait in 1960. The painter was over eighty at the time, and ill health caused postponement of the last sittings until well into the following year. Eliot purchased one version of the portrait for his wife. The likeness exhibited here is more elaborate, for the artist has posed his subject in front of a collection of the poet's books, selected and delineated to reveal something of Eliot's taste in art and literature.

Sir Gerald Kelly (1879-1972)
Oil on canvas, 1962
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of the National Portrait Gallery Commission and senior staff in memory of Donald P. Klopfer and Gallery purchase

Enlarged image

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