GustoKeats-Shelley House, Rome, to 27 February 2021
“Give me books, fruit, French wine, fine weather and a little music out of doors played by someone I do not know… and I can pass a summer very happily.”
– John Keats
In 1820 the British poet John Keats spent 10 days quarantined in the Bay of Naples as typhus raged, an enforced stillness mirroring today’s Covid crisis. With his artist friend, Joseph Severn, Keats settled in the harbour, tied down by the country’s rigorous quaranta giorni – the origin of our word quarantine – before setting off for Rome, his final resting place. Keats and Severn’s journey across Italy bears an unsettling coincidence with the creation of Gusto, an exhibition of new work by British artist Nancy Cadogan.
In late 2019, the Keats-Shelley House in Rome commissioned Cadogan to create a series of paintings that celebrated the life and legacy of Keats and to mark the 200th anniversary of his death. Just as Cadogan stepped into her studio to make the new work, the world plunged into lockdown. It became an unbearingly poignant process for Cadogan, making work in the best of circumstances and the worst of circumstances. Covid has been catastrophic for Italy with the country recording one of the highest number of lives lost. It has taken resilience, courage, perseverance and a steely determination to get this show on the road. But, on the road it is.
What has emerged is a deeply thoughtful and considered series of oil paintings, referencing her learned knowledge of Keats’s work and grounded in symbolism and hope for an uncertain future. Cadogan presented Gusto in Tier 2 London, and at the end of October finally travelled to Rome to open the exhibition at the Keats-Shelley House. She opened Gusto, a collection of 16 paintings, on 31 October – Keats’s birthday – elegantly assembled between the Museum’s permanent collection of paintings and portraits, busts and miniatures, relics and first editions, literary manuscripts and letters that remind us of Keats’s sensuous, romantic evocation with words.
The Museum reopened in late summer and has continued its plans for KeatsShelley200, a campaign to celebrate the lives of the Great Romantic Poets who lived in, and were inspired by, Italy.
Gusto by Nancy Cadogan at Keats-Shelley House, Rome, 31 October 2020 – 27 February 2021.