SIR THOMAS LAWRENCE, PRA
Bristol 1769 - 1830 London
Portrait of Miss Selina Peckwell, later Mrs George Grote (1775-1845)
Oil on canvas: 49 ¼ x 39 ½ in / 125.1 x 100.3 cm
Painted circa 1793
By descent to the sitter’s great-grand-daughter, Miss Mayor, Queen’s Gate House, Kingston Hill;
her sale, Christie’s London, 20th May 1927, lot 33 (5,880 gns to Colnaghi)
P & D Colnaghi, London, 1951;
by descent to a European private collector
Brighton, Brighton Art Gallery, Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA, 1951, no.9
Country Life, May 1938
Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London 1954, p.40
Kenneth Garlick, ‘A catalogue of the paintings, drawings and pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence’, Walpole Society, 1964, vol. XXXIX, p.96
Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Oxford 1989, p.200, no.357
Described as being ‘of uncommon beauty’ and ‘noted for her gaiety’, Selina Peckwell married the banker George Grote in 1793; this portrait was probably made at the time of her wedding. Painted a mere few months after the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds, it triumphantly epitomises the new Romantic portrait style. A child prodigy, Lawrence first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of eighteen in 1787 and two years later astonished Georgian society with his bravura full-length of Lady Cremorne (Tate Britain). He painted Queen Charlotte the same year and by 1793 was Painter in Ordinary to George III and about to be elected as a full Academician.
Miss Peckwell stares soulfully into the distance, set in a richly-impasted, stormy landscape painted with a dashing fluency that reflects Lawrence’s admiration of Rubens and van Dyck. Her curls are ruffled by the same breeze that animates the swirling drapery of her skirt, painted with the creamy highlights that give such animation to Lawrence’s work. His depiction is of a woman of feeling, in tune with nature.
Selina Peckwell was the daughter of the Rev. Dr Henry Peckwell (1747-1787) and Bella Blosset of Co. Meath, who came from a well-connected Huguenot family. Endowed with ‘a handsome person and talents of….superior quality’ (Mrs Grote, The Personal Life of George Grote, 1873, p.4), Peckwell attracted the notice of the bossy Methodist crusader Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who appointed him one of her Chaplains. A fine preacher, he also held the living of Bloxham-cum-Digby in Lincolnshire. Peckwell died at the age of forty through septicaemia contracted while doing a post-mortem examination (he was teaching himself medicine to aid the charity he had founded, The Sick Man’s Friend). Six years later Selina, Lady Huntingdon’s god-daughter and namesake, married George Grote (b.1762), son of the Bremen-born banker Andreas Grote. They lived at Clay Hill, Beckenham in Kent, and had a family of ten sons and one daughter. Their eldest son, George Grote Jnr (1794-1871) became a distinguished politician and historian of Greece. Selina Peckwell’s youthful gaiety did not survive her marriage; she was a strict mother to her numerous brood, bringing them up in the precepts of the Evangelical church.
SIR THOMAS LAWRENCE, PRA
Bristol 1769 - 1830 London
Sir Thomas Lawrence was the foremost portrait painter of his day, recorder of the glittering society of the Regency and the Napoleonic Wars. The son of a feckless Devizes innkeeper, he was a child prodigy who supported his family by drawing pastel portraits from the age of ten. In 1787 he came to London and studied at the Royal Academy; three years later he exhibited a portrait of Queen Charlotte at the Royal Academy to great acclaim.
Lawrence was made ARA in 1791, Painter in Ordinary to George III in 1792 and RA in 1794. His portraits combined glamour, bravura brushwork, rich colours and Romantic landscape settings, and came to define his age. He painted a few `history' pictures, such as Satan Summoning his Legions, 1797 (Royal Academy) and many theatrical portraits of the Kemble and Siddons family. In 1815 Lawrence painted his first portrait of the Prince Regent.
In 1818 Lawrence travelled to Vienna to paint the Allied victors of the Napoleonic Wars, including the Emperors of Austria and Prussia. This series was eventually hung in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. In 1819 he painted Pope Pius VII in Rome, before travelling to Florence, where he was much feted as the most famous portrait painter in Europe. Some of Lawrence's finest late portraits are of children, such as the celebrated Charles William Lambton (RA 1825; Lord Lambton's collection), nicknamed `The Red Boy'.
In 1820 Lawrence was elected President of the Royal Academy, and was instrumental in helping Britain to acquire the Elgin Marbles and the collection of John Julius Angerstein, which formed the nucleus of the National Gallery. Lawrence was an extravagant man, frequently on the verge of bankruptcy, who formed a superb art collection which included many Michelangelo and Raphael drawings. After his death in 1830, it was offered to the nation at a very modest price, but it was idiotically refused by the government, and broken up.