The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon
A vivid and compelling biography of Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) - historical painter and polemicist, diarist, friend of the famous - and genius.
* 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.
“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
“This excellent book- beautifully written and well researched - recalls a man who ought not to be forgotten”