A Genius for Failure by Paul O'Keeffe
The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon

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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.

 

About Paul O'Keeffe

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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.
 
Published January 11, 2011 by Vintage Digital. 588 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Arts & Photography, History, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

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