A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVIII
THE CONTEMPORARIES OF LAWRENCE

WHILE Reynolds, with the single exception of Gainsborough, who in his day was styled a landscape painter, stood alone and far above rivalry in portrait-art, Lawrence had many rivals who, far from yielding the palm, long contested with him the pre-eminence which, assisted by fashion and court favour, he at last secured. The men and the times had alike changed. Lawrence when at the head of his profession was far from obtaining the unapproachable excellence of Reynolds and Gainsborough, and the ranks of art bad also been largely extended since the foundation of the Royal Academy, by distinguished artists chiefly trained in its schools, who became the formidable competitors of Lawrence.

In beginning with Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A., the earliest of these men in point of date, we can hardly designate him as a competitor. A native of Scotland, the most distinguished portrait painter of that country since the days of Jamesone, he was born 4 March 1756, at Stockbridge, a suburb of Edinburgh, and had there his art training and practice. The son of a respectable manufacturer, and at an early age left an orphan, he was educated at Heriots' Hospital; and at the age of fifteen was apprenticed to an eminent goldsmith at Edinburgh. His love of drawing led him to attempt portraits, and he soon attracted notice by his skill in miniature, so much so that he gained enough employment to enable him to obtain his release from his master. He had had no teaching, it is said, except some hints from David Martin ( 1736-1789), a portrait painter, who then had the chief practice in the northern metropolis, but his miniatures show such art-treatment as could not have been attained without the means, at least, of studying fine works. As his powers increased he tried fullsize portraits in oil, and his success raised the jealousy of his quondam adviser. His sitters increasing, he abandoned miniature, and devoted himself exclusively to oil. He worked in a free spirited manner, and aiming at character succeeded in impressing it on his canvas. He was advancing in his profession by the strength of his own genius when, in his twenty-second year, fortune assisted him in taking a firmer footing, by the help of an estimable wife with whom he acquired some property, and he soon afterwards came to London. His early

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