John Donne portrait: Art Fund urges donors to close final funding gap

  • 1 May 2006

The Art Fund has welcomed the decision by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) to help the National Portrait Gallery save a celebrated portrait of John Donne with a grant of £750,000.

The Art Fund’s Director, David Barrie, has appealed to donors, saying “The Art Fund kick-started the campaign to save the portrait of John Donne in January, with a significant grant of £200,000.

“Three months on, we’re delighted the NHMF has put its money on the table. The Art Fund is now calling on donors to come forward and ensure this painting takes its rightful place in the National Portrait Gallery”.

All efforts must be made to raise the remaining £116,057, to ensure the painting is kept on public display. The total cost of the portrait after tax concessions is £1.4m.

The portrait depicts Donne as a melancholic lover, brooding in the shadows. It is thought that the poet sat for the portrait in an attempt to win a reluctant heart.

This might explain the inscription at the base of the painting, which translates as ‘O Lady Lighten our darkness’.

Painted by an unknown English artist, the portrait shows us not only what Donne looked like as a young man, but how he saw himself in the days when he was writing some of the greatest love poems in the English language.

If acquired, the John Donne portrait, which was mentioned in the writer’s will, will take pride of place in the National Portrait Gallery’s Tudor Gallery, beside iconic portraits of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton.