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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Gallery snaps up Hughes portrait

A rare sketch of the West Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, drawn by his wife Sylvia Plath in 1957, has been bought by the National Portrait Gallery.

Sketched in the first year of their tempestuous marriage, the drawing was her only known portrait of Hughes and fetched 27,600 at auction on Monday.

It was one of more than 300 portraits belonging to collector Roy Davids.

The gallery said it had been keen to acquire a true-to-life picture of the poet for some time.

Hughes burned many of his papers before his death in 1998 but gave the sketch to Mr Davids, a lifelong friend.

This intimate portrait is a marvellous evocation of a major poet
Paul Moorhouse, gallery curator

A grant of 5,111 from the National Arts Collection Fund enabled the gallery to purchase the sketch of Hughes, who lived in Mytholmroyd, near Hebden Bridge, when he was a child.

Paul Moorhouse, curator of the gallery's 20th century collection, said: "The gallery lacked, and had been very keen to acquire, a really compelling likeness of Hughes made from life.

"This intimate portrait is a marvellous evocation of a major poet and of a fascinating literary relationship."

The sketch will be exhibited alongside portraits of other 20th century British poets including Philip Larkin, TS Eliot and Dylan Thomas.

The portrait, taken from Plath's notebook, is on faintly lined paper and bears the inscription: "Portrait of me, made by Sylvia Plath, circa 1957, Ted Hughes."

Extensive collection

Hughes and Plath met at Cambridge and were married in 1956. But their relationship was tested by his extra-marital affairs and her history of mental illness.

Plath eventually committed suicide in 1963 shortly after the publication of her novel 'The Bell Jar'.

Compiled over 30 years, Mr Davids' extensive private collection contains almost 300 portraits of writers, artists, musicians and philosophers.

Other subjects include William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron and the artist LS Lowry.

The auction was held at Bonhams' London branch.

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