'The funeral of Shelley', Louis Edouard Fournier, 1889

There is a high horizon adding to bleak effect of the painting. In the foreground there is a burning pyre and body. To the left, deeper into the painting there are groups of people dressed in mourning clothing.

Oil on canvas, 129.5 x 213.4cm

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Romantic poet, drowned in 1822. His yacht was wrecked in a storm in the Gulf of Spezzia, Italy. His body was cremated and his remains later buried at the Protestant cemetery in Rome.

Fournier's painting shows the funeral pyre surrounded by three of the dead poet's closest friends. From left to right they are the author and adventurer Trelawny and Shelley’s fellow-poets Leigh Hunt and Byron. In Trelawny's own account of the event, 'Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron', he described the hot August day on which the funeral took place.

Fournier chose to ignore this aspect of the description. Instead he depicted the weather as grey and cold to accentuate the sombre and dramatic mood of the piece.

A poem inspired by this painting!

Joe Giess entered our 'Get Inspired...at the Walker' |poetry competition and wrote this poem inspired by 'The funeral of Shelley'.

Ode to 'The funeral of Shelley'

A drop of smoke,
A soul departs
From these torched charred remains
With a burnt backbone
Of experience and wisdom,
Framed in one scene, life is shown
With a ribcage of fragility
Small fires burn long
For the human gods
Which darkly smoke pours from
And it has clouded all beauty

His tides have hit hard upon our coasts
And the sunken; still breathing
Will sigh, a deep bleak poisoned wind
Suffocation and wane
And as this sunken crowd gathers & throngs
Speechless, now wanton, waiting for your song
An infinite silence has fallen, it has deafened
All lives living, dying and waiting to be born.
I gaze, at each weighted brushstroke
Layers of pigmented memory,
Will forever be a muse upon
The dark moonlight mile,
And deep inside the burnt heavens,
Within all ash is honour,
And within the man was love,
Love; now lost,
And when I sleep upon the painted beaches
Of death and creation,
I wish art can immortalize me like this.

By Joe Giess