Lord Byron in Albanian dress by Thomas Phillips Coaster.
This portrait of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips depicts the renowned poet and society figure dressed in traditional Albanian costume. He wears an oriental-style, red velvet jacket and headdress, with a velvet cloak draped across his left arm. Byron bought the costume in the region of Epirus (part of modern Greece and Albania) in 1809, while on a Grand Tour across southern Europe with his great friend, the politician John Cam Hobhouse (1786–1869).
The poet Byron was famous for his swaggering good looks and his brilliant, reckless personality. The publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) made him famous overnight. He was also a scathing critic and his Don Juan (1819–1824) is the ultimate satire of Regency society. He lived abroad from 1816 in self-imposed exile and became an attraction for English tourists. A lifelong supporter of liberal causes, he joined the Greeks in their fight against Ottoman rule but died of fever in Missolonghi in 1824.
Byron sat to Phillips in 1813 wearing the Albanian costume which he had bought four years earlier; the costume is now at Bowood in Wiltshire. The finished portrait met with a mixed reception but the essayist and poet Leigh Hunt thought it ‘by far the best that has appeared; I mean the best of him at his best time of life, and the most like him in features as well as expression’. This version was painted in about 1835.