• LAWRENCE, Sir Thomas


  • Sir Thomas Lawrence was born in Bristol but was so precocious that, at the age of ten, he was in practice as a portrait draughtsman in crayons in Oxford: at seventeen he wrote to his mother: 'excepting Sir Joshua, for the painting of a head I would risk my reputation with any painter in London' - and that was in Gainsborough's lifetime. In 1787, however, he was a student at the RA Schools for a short time and exhibited at the Academy of that year. From then on he was enormously successful, being made ARA in 1791, appointed Painter to the King on the death of Reynolds in 1792, and elected RA in 1794; he became President of the RA in 1820, having been knighted five years earlier. He had a European reputation as a portrait painter, partly because of the very real glitter and force of his best works, partly because he was commissioned by the Prince-Regent (later George IV) to paint all the great personalities of the struggle against Napoleon, making a kind of triumphal progress through Vienna and Rome to do so. His income was huge, but he was always heavily in debt, which probaly explains the empty flashiness of his worst work. It is, however, notable, that his style was formed very early and scarcely changed.

    Two of his masterpieces, Miss Farren (New York, Met. Mus.) and Queen Charlotte (London, NG) were both in the 1790 RA - i.e. they were painted before he was twenty-one - yet there is little difference between them and The Archduke of Austria and Pius VII (both Royal Coll.) of 1819 (the Pius was still in his studio at his death).

    He formed a superb collection of Old Master drawings - probaly one of the best ever made - and his will offered it to the nation on very easy terms: by a piece of more than than usual governmental imbecility it was refused, and many of the finest drawings dispersed. Fortunatley a part (mostly by Raphael and Michelangelo) was later bought for Oxford (Ashmolean).

    The best collection of his works is in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle, which houses the set of European sovereigns and statesmen painted for George IV. Other works are in museums all over the world including Brighton, Chicago, Cleveland Ohio, London (NG, NPG, BM, Tate, V&A, Wallace Coll., RA, Dulwich, Guildhall, Soane Mus., Kenwood, Wellington Mus.), Ottawa, Paris (Louvre), San Marino Cal., the Vatican, Vienna, Washington (NG, Corcoran, Philips) and Yale (CBA).

  • Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)

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