Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirkup, Seymour Stocker

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KIRKUP, SEYMOUR STOCKER (1788–1880), artist, born in London in 1788, was the eldest child of Joseph Kirkup, jeweller and diamond merchant in London. He was admitted a student of the Royal Academy in 1809, and obtained a medal in 1811 for a drawing in the antique school there. He became at this time acquainted with William Blake (1757–1827) [q.v.] (see Wemyss Reid, Life of Lord Houghton, ii. 222), and with B. R. Haydon [q.v.], with whom he subsequently kept up an interesting correspondence (see Haydon, Correspondence and Table-talk, edited by F. W. Haydon). About 1816 Kirkup began to suffer from pulmonary weakness, and; after his father's death, visited Italy. He eventually settled in that country, living some time at Rome, where, on 26 Feb. 1821, he was present at the funeral of John Keats and in 1822 at that of Shelley. He eventually settled at Florence, where he lived for many years in a house on the Arno, adjoining the Ponte Vecchio. He was a good artist, but practised painting in a ‘dilettante’ fashion. He sent to the Royal Academy in 1833 a picture of ‘Cassio,’ and in 1836 a lady's portrait. He also published a few etchings. At Florence Kirkup became a leader of a well-known literary circle. He collected a valuable library, of which a catalogue was printed in 1871, and maintained a large correspondence. Walter Savage Landor, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Bezzi, E. J. Trelawny, Joseph Severn, and others were his intimate friends, and his name is of frequent occurrence in their biographies. He drew many portraits of his friends; one of Trelawny is in the possession of Mr. J. Temple Leader at Florence, and in the Scott collection of drawings in the Scottish National Gallery at Edinburgh there is a portrait drawn by Kirkup of John Scott, editor of the ‘Champion.’ He was a devoted and learned student of Dante, and adopted the peculiar scheme of Dantesque interpretation promulgated by his friend Gabriele Rossetti. In 1840 Kirkup, Bezzi, and Henry Wilde, an American, obtained leave to search for the portrait of Dante, painted, according to tradition, by Giotto, in the chapel of the Palazzo del Podestà at Florence. In this they were successful on 21 July 1840. Kirkup was able surreptitiously to make a drawing and a tracing before an ill-conceived restoration in 1841 destroyed the truth and value of the painting. The drawing, which was issued in chromolithography by the Arundel Society, was made from Kirkup's sketch. The latter was also engraved by P. Lasinio. Kirkup gave his tracing to Rossetti, who handed it on to his son, Dante Gabriel Rossetti [q.v.] It was sold after the latter's death. Kirkup made some of the designs for Lord Vernon's splendid edition of Dante's works.

On the restoration of the Italian kingdom, Kirkup was created for these services cavaliere of the order of S. Maurizio e Lazzaro. Apparently through a misunderstanding he assumed that this gave him a right to the rank of ‘barone,’ by which title he was known for the rest of his life. Kirkup was below middle stature, and in early life very good-looking. Latterly he displayed much eccentricity in his dress and habits, and suffered from increasing deafness. He was most of his life a devoted believer in spiritualism, and a disciple of Daniel Home [q.v.], under whose influence he parted with his library and other treasures. Kirkup had by a young Florentine lady, Regina Ronti, who died 30 Oct. 1856, aged 19, a daughter, Imogene, who married Signor Teodoro Cioni of Leghorn, and died in 1878, leaving two children. On 16 Feb. 1875 he married, he being eighty-seven and his bride only twenty-two years of age, Paolina, daughter of Pasquale Carboni, English vice-consul at Rome. His widow afterwards married Signor Morandi of Bologna. Kirkup died at 4 Via Scali del Ponte Nuovo, Leghorn, where he had resided since 1872, on 3 Jan. 1880, and was buried on 5 Jan. in the new British cemetery there. A portrait of Kirkup, drawn by himself in 1844, is in the possession of Mr. Thomas Marchant at Lewisham.

[Athenæum, 29 May 1880; Spectator, 11 May 1850; Forster's Life of W. S. Landor; B. R. Haydon's Memoirs; Sharp's Memoirs of Joseph Severn; information kindly supplied by W. M. Rossetti, J. Temple Leader, the Rev. R. H. Irvine, Mr. T. Marchant, Duchessa di Sermoneta, Signora Morandi, Signor Cioni, Miss Browning, and others.]

L. C.