Sir Thomas Lawrence,
(born April 13, 1769, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England –
died Jan. 7, 1830, London), painter and draftsman who was
the most fashionable English portrait painter of the late 18th and
early 19th centuries.
He was the son of
an innkeeper who owned the Black Bear at Devizes, where the young
Lawrence won a reputation as a prodigy for his profile portraits in
pencil of guests. Later he began to work in pastel, and in 1780,
when his family moved to Bath, he set up professionally. He had
little regular education or artistic training, but was working in
oils by the time he moved to London in 1787. There he studied at
the Royal Academy schools for a short time and was given
Sir Joshua Reynolds
He was handsome, charming, and exceptionally gifted. His early
success was phenomenal, and when he was 20 years of age he was
summoned to Windsor to paint the portrait, later widely acclaimed,
of Queen Charlotte. He was elected associate of the Royal Academy
in 1791 and academician in 1794.
Lawrence was a
highly skilled draftsman. He soon abandoned pastels but continued
to make portraits in pencil and chalks. These were separate
commissions and were rarely studies for paintings, as it was his
usual practice to make a careful drawing of the head and sometimes
the whole composition on the canvas itself and to paint over it.
There are highly interesting references to his working methods in
Joseph Farington's Diary.
After the death of
Reynolds, Lawrence was the leading English portrait painter. His
works exhibit a fluid touch, rich color, and great ability to
realize textures. He presented his sitters in a dramatic, sometimes
theatrical, manner that produced Romantic portraiture of a high
order. After the death of John Hoppner in 1810 he was patronized
by the Prince Regent, who knighted him in 1815 and sent him in 1818
to the political congresses of Aix-la-Chapelle and Vienna, where he
painted 24 large full-length portraits of the military leaders and
heads of state of the Holy Alliance. Executed with verve and elegance,
these works now hang together in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor
Castle — a unique historical document of the period. By
these works Lawrence was recognized as the foremost portrait
painter of Europe. On his return to England in 1820 he was elected
president of the Royal Academy.
Lawrence was also a
distinguished connoisseur. His collection of old-master drawings
was one of the finest ever assembled, and he was instrumental in
securing the collection of Greek sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles
for the nation and in the founding of the National Gallery.