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.