Sir Thomas Lawrence

Portrait of Mrs John Bradburne

Oil on canvas: 30.1(h) x 25.1(w) in /

76.5(h) x 63.8(w) cm

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BS 248



Bristol 1769 – 1830 London


Portrait of Mrs John Bradburne


Oil on canvas: 30 1/8 x 25 1/8 in / 76.5 x 63.8 cm

Frame size: 37 x 32 in / 94 x 81.3 cm


Painted circa 1795-1800



By descent in the family of the sitter to JE Bradburne, Elm Grove, Wimburne, Hants;

Christie’s London, 5th July 1907, lot 101 (2,450 gns to Mr Agnew);

Thomas Agnew & Sons, London

Duveen Brothers, 20 Place Vendôme, Paris;

from whom acquired on 14th May 1910 for FFr.162,500 by a private collector, France;

by descent



Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Maîtres anglais du XVIIIe siècle, April-May 1934, no.59, illus.



W Armstrong, Lawrence, London 1913, p.116

G Grappe, ‘Une exposition de Maîtres anglais du XVIIIe siècle’, L’Illustration, 5th May 1934, p.27, no.4757, illus.

K Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London 1954, p.29

K Garlick, ‘Catalogue of the paintings, drawings and pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence’, Walpole Society, Glasgow 1962-64, vol. 39, p.41

K Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence: a Complete Catalogue of the Oil Paintings, Oxford 1989, p.157, no. 125, illus.



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. After studying at the Royal Academy Schools, he stunned society with his bravura portrait of Queen Charlotte, exhibited at the RA in 1790, when he was barely twenty-one. He was made Painter in Ordinary to George III the following year and RA at the age of twenty-six.


This painting of Mrs John Bradburne, dating from the latter half of the 1790s, is a fine example of the Romantic sensibility with which Lawrence invested his sitters. Mrs Bradburne stares pensively into the distance, set elegantly against a dramatic sunset filtering through towering trees. She is portrayed as a woman of feeling, at ease in nature. Lawrence often made oil sketch studies for his landscape backdrops; the magnificent trees in this work may be a graceful allusion to the Bradburnes’ home, Woodlands at Windlesham in Surrey. The fluent, vivid handling of paint, with rich impasto and strong contrasts of light and shade, is characteristic of Lawrence’s work in the 1790s.

Lawrence also painted John Bradburne (1757-1809) around the same time as his wife (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)[1]. Bradburne came from a distinguished Derbyshire family domiciled in Bradburn, near Ashbourne, since the sixteenth century. He was a freeholder of Windlesham from 1799; it is possible that the purchase of Woodlands impelled the commissions from Lawrence. Woodlands was inherited by the Bradburnes’ eldest son Harry (d.1837), a Captain in the Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards); he sold the estate a few years later to James Fyler, Esq.





Lawrence Mrs John Bradburne – an essay on the costume by Professor Aileen Ribeiro


‘A woman can never be too fine when she is all in white’, Jane Austen remarked, and simply-styled dresses of white cotton fabrics with matching headdresses were high fashion in the 1790s, featuring prominently in portraits by Romney, Lawrence, Raeburn and other well-known artists. Lawrence’s Mrs John Bradburne is a prime example of the genre in her white muslin gown and matching kerchief (scarf) arranged over her hair and wrapped under the chin.


White cotton dresses had first made their appearance in the 1780s, popularized by Queen Marie-Antoinette of France as informal wear and they became even more widespread during the following decade. The inspiration was an admiration, particularly in France, for the classical, as a reaction (promoted by artists such as David) against the complicated costume of the ancien regime, a trend which was taken up enthusiastically during the French Revolution when the heroic times of antiquity were thought to be replicated in the brave new world of the French Republic. As France (even in a period of political and social upheaval) was the dominant force in women’s fashion, neo-classical styles were copied in England, although in a more subdued form. Another influence on Englishwomen’s dress was that of the white cotton frocks worn by small girls – Lawrence’s Sarah Barrett Moulton (‘Pinkie’) in her short-sleeved dress with a pink sash (Huntington Library: 1795) – is an example; for the first time, women wished to be youthful in their clothing but such juvenile fashions were perhaps more suited to the young than to the more mature wearer.


Lawrence depicts Mrs Bradburne in a ‘round gown’ (the contemporary phrase) of white muslin, with sleeves to the elbow; the dress is a very simple wrapping gown (rather like a dressing gown) and kept in place, just about, by a pink silk sash, but creating a considerably plunging neckline, which suggests that she wears the lightest of stays. Modesty was usually preserved by an under-bodice of fine white cotton, or a scarf (fichu) tucked into the neckline of the dress, as in John Opie’s portrait of the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft (NPG: c. 1797), but Mrs Bradburne prefers to display her décolletage. Wollstonecraft’s dress is almost identical to that worn by Bradburne but the waist is right under the bust by the later 1790s and the fabric a cheap and matte white cotton, increasingly mass produced, and in tune with the revolutionary and ‘democratic’ feelings of the period. Clothing, according to Wollstonecraft, ‘ought to adorn the person and not rival it’, and it should be inexpensive, ‘simple, elegant and becoming’; both women wear dress very simply styled but Bradburne’s is of expensive Indian muslin.


In keeping with the revolutionary fashion aesthetic from France, many women abandoned elaborate hairstyles and hats in favour of simpler coiffures and plain coverings for the head. Hair was lightly curled and allowed to fall over the shoulders, and was sometimes lightly powdered as in Lawrence’s Lady Manners (Cleveland Museum of Art: 1794). A similar hairstyle can be seen worn by Mrs Bradburne although it’s not clear if it is very lightly powdered (a tax on hair-powder was introduced in 1795), or if this is a trick of the light due to the glossy technique of the artist. As for what she wears on her head, a mixed set of fashion impulses can be seen, as is often the case in England, unlike in France where there was greater unity in design. So the white muslin headdress might suggest a neo-classical veil, or equally the French vogue for non-elite scarves à la paysanne or à la citoyenne; in addition, the band under the chin has a hint of the ‘medieval’ about it.


The kind of dress that we see in Lawrence’s Mrs Bradburne is intended to be timeless through its simplicity and lack of ornament (and no jewellery at all is worn). Consequently, dating can sometimes be a problem, so one has to be guided by hairstyle and waistline. I suggest a date of the mid-1790s, say c. 1794 – c1796.                        Aileen Ribeiro


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.





[1] Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence: a Complete Catalogue of the Oil Paintings, Oxford 1989, pp.156-7, no.124, illus.

BritishSir Thomas Lawrence