The Art of Sylvia Plath: Revisit Her Sketches, Self-Portraits, Drawings & Illustrated Letters


Sylvia Plath’s poet­ic tal­ent should go unques­tioned, but as Plath fans will know, she first intend­ed to become a visu­al artist, and some of her ear­li­est work—illustrated child­hood let­ters like the adorable dog below—remained hid­den away in the fam­i­ly attic until 1996. Edi­tor Kath­leen Con­nors includ­ed this juve­nil­ia in a 2007 col­lec­tion of Plath’s work enti­tled Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath’s Art of the Visu­al, which also fea­tures sketch­es, pho­tographs, and portraits—such as the brood­ing 1951 self-por­trait above—that rep­re­sent Plath’s work while an art stu­dent at Smith Col­lege.


Much of the art-school work is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Plath’s best. While she made the dif­fi­cult deci­sion at age 20 to aban­don aspi­ra­tions for an art career and focus on her writ­ing, Plath con­tin­ued to make visu­al art. For exam­ple, at 23, she pro­duced a con­fi­dent­ly-ren­dered series of pen-and-ink drawings—such as the fish­ing boats below—while she and Ted Hugh­es hon­ey­mooned in Paris and Spain.


The Tele­graph has a gallery of thir­ty of these draw­ings, which were on dis­play at London’s May­or Gallery between Novem­ber and Decem­ber of 2011. Plath’s writ­ing has always been remark­ably visu­al, her deft han­dling of some­times star­tling imagery giv­ing her work so much of its abil­i­ty to seduce, enthrall, and unset­tle. As in her poet­ry, the images of her­self seem to attract the most inter­est. There are oth­er pieces of Plath self-por­trai­ture, but none con­trasts so much with the youth­ful paint­ing above, I think, as the accom­plished pen­cil draw­ing below, with the poet’s fear­less side­long stare and bare shoul­ders express­ing both her vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and con­sid­er­able per­son­al and cre­ative pow­er.

sylvia plath self portrait 2

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sylvia Plath’s Poet­ry Becomes Exper­i­men­tal Cin­e­ma in 1991 Film Lady Lazarus

On 50th Anniver­sary of Sylvia Plath’s Death, Hear Her Read ‘Lady Lazarus’

Sylvia Plath Reads “Dad­dy”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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  • mickey L morgan says:

    You may be inter­est­ed in the art stored in Smith Col­lege’s Rare Book Room. And the mas­sive col­lec­tion of col­lages and paint­ings with dis­tinct sur­re­al­is­tic expres­sions … very much like Dali. She paint­ed them at 16. 2 large paint­ings that show her artis­tic genius. What you have here is rather thin … Plath as an artist is not yet revealed. But thank you. I am writ­ing a book on her com­bi­na­tion of image and text … see LinkedIn
    ms. mick­ey mor­gan, inde­pen­dent Plath schol­ar

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