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Sylvia Plath, Novelist, Poet, Artist

Last November and December The Mayor Gallery in London featured an exhibition of 44 drawings between – all by Sylvia Plath. The exhibition was successful and well-received, but many viewers did comment on the detachment of the images – given Plath’s struggles in life and tragic ending, one might expect an emotional intensity in the pieces, but they were by and large deemed “polite”.

Plath, who died by her own hand at the age of 30, was best-known for her only novel The Bell Jar, and for her achingly beautiful poetry. But many people don’t know she also had a deep appreciation and love for art, both viewing and creating it. Long after her decision to pursue a life of writing, she continued to draw, often creating illustrations to accompany her own writing. The collection at the Mayor had belonged to Ted Hughes, who has authenticated each of the pieces. He passed the collection on to his and Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes.

We have two pieces of art by Sylvia Plath listed on the web site. The first is a portrait Plath completed of her high school classmate Arden Tapley, done in oil pastels, and shows, if not a perfect and natural graps of anatomy, then certainly a very real talent for capturing the essence of a specific person’s face. The second is a series of three drawings (two pictured here) done when Plath when she was eight and nine years old.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

2 Responses to “Sylvia Plath, Novelist, Poet, Artist”

  1. If readers are interested in Plath’s art, please buy EYE RHYMES: SYLVIA PLATH’S ART OF THE VISUAL edited by Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley (OUP, 2007). There are essays on Plath’s art as well as dozens of illustrations which span Plath’s life.

  2. Peter is right. EYE RHYMES is the book to get. About Plath’s “polite” art. Consider when it was produced–much of it before she began writing her last, great poems. As my new biography, AMERICAN ISIS: THE LIFE AND ART OF SYLVIA PLATH shows, the desire to be “polite” was also part of her sensibility even as she had a very well developed satiric side. I was especially impressed with the testimony of her Smith classmates who saw a good deal of the polite Sylvia. And I don’t think her politeness was simply a pretense. She could be polite and very kind as well as mean and nasty.