A Genius for Failure The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon

by Paul O'Keeffe

A Genius for Failure The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon Synopsis

* Haydon's first attempt at suicide ended when the low calibre bullet fired from his pistol fractured his skull but failed to penetrate his brain. * His second attempt also failed: a deep slash across his throat left a large pool of blood at the entrance to his studio, but he was still able to reach his easel on the opposite side of the room. *Only his third attempt, another cut to the throat which sprayed blood across his unfinished canvas, was successful. He died face-down before the bespattered 'Alfred and the First British Jury', his final bid 'to improve the taste of the English people' through the High Art of historical painting. * Such intensity, struggle and near-comic inability to succeed encapsulate Haydon's career. Thirty years before his death his huge, iconic paintings had made him the toast of early 19th-century London, drawing paying crowds to the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly for months and leading to nationwide tours. * However, his attempt to repeat such success three months before his death was to destroy him: barely a soul turned up, leaving the desperate painter alone, humiliated, and facing financial ruin. * In A Genius for Failure Paul O'Keeffe makes clear that the real tragedy of Haydon lay in the extent to which his failures were unwittingly engineered by his own actions - his refusal to resort to the painting of fashionable portraits, for example, and his self-destructively acrimonious relationship with the RA. * The company he kept - Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington, among many others - and the momentous events he lived through - The Battle of Waterloo, the Coronation of George IV, and the passing of the first Parliamentary Reform Bill - make A Genius for Failure not only the definitive biography of this fascinating and tragic painter, but a stirring portrayal of an age.

A Genius for Failure The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon Press Reviews

O'Keeffe has done an exhilarating job -- Emma Crichton-Miller * Evening Standard * Haydon's story is essentially tragic but it has many elements of comedy, even high farce, and Paul O'Keeffe's biography brings the comedy to the fore with an enviable lightness of touch -- Peter Burton * Daily Express * Haydon's story is one of the great cautionary tales in art history, and it still has the power to shock, even after 150 years: there is barely a page in Paul O'Keeffe's new biography on which this reviewer has not written in the margin either oh no or Oh God ...O'Keeffe's book largely refrains from psychological speculation, and I can't decide whether that's a good thing. What is definitely a good thing, though, is the way Haydon's tragedy is presented as a human story, with many down-to-earth facts -- Lynne Truss * Sunday Times * O'Keeffe has produced a fascinating study of a forgotten life that is rich in detail for fans of period drama -- Mark Williamson * The Herald * tactful and unobtrusive ... Hayden steps forth, as full of colour and bluster as ever, but with dignity as well as absurdity, and a perspicacious, as well as biting, tongue -- Gregory Dart * TLS *

Book Information

ISBN: 9780224062473
Publication date: 6th August 2009
Author: Paul O'Keeffe
Publisher: The Bodley Head Ltd an imprint of Vintage Publishing
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 576 pages
Categories: Biography: arts & entertainment, History of art & design styles: c 1800 to c 1900, Individual artists, art monographs, Painting & paintings,

About Paul O'Keeffe

Paul O'Keeffe is a freelance lecturer and writer based in Liverpool. He gained his Ph. D. with a scholarly edition of Wyndham Lewis's Tarr, and won critical acclaim with his 2000 study of Lewis, Some Sort of Genius.

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