Lawrence, Sir Thomas

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Lawrence, Sir Thomas

Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1769–1830, English portrait painter, b. Bristol. He began to draw when very young and developed extraordinary talents as a draftsman; though he studied briefly at the Royal Academy, he was mainly self-taught. Lawrence worked with great skill in chalk, crayon, pencil, pastel, and oils. In 1787, on his first visit to London, he met Sir Joshua Reynolds, who encouraged the development of his work. His reputation was established with the exhibition in 1790 of his dazzling portrait of the actress Elizabeth Farren (Metropolitan Mus.). He soon won royal patronage, and after the deaths of Reynolds and John Hoppner (his archrival) he became the preeminent fashionable portrait painter of his day. He succeeded Reynolds as painter in ordinary to the king, became an Academician, and was knighted in 1815. After the fall of Napoleon, Lawrence was sent by George IV to the conference at Aix-la-Chapelle to paint the dignitaries assembled there (portraits in Waterloo Gall., Windsor Castle, England). In Austria and Italy he made portraits of state and church officials and, upon his return to England in 1820, he succeeded Benjamin West as president of the Royal Academy.

Among the best-known of his numerous works are portraits of Mrs. Siddons, Benjamin West, and Princess Lieven (National Gall., London) and those of George IV and Princess Caroline (National Portrait Gall., London). Among the best of his portraits of children are the group The Calmady Children (Metropolitan Mus.), and the celebrated Pinkie (Henry E. Huntington Gall., San Marino, Calif.). Although his portraits have been criticized for centuries as saccharine and overly flattering, he succeeded admirably in capturing both the rich exuberance of the Regency period and the singular character of his sitters. A number of his works were hurriedly executed to alleviate financial pressure and were imperfectly finished.

See catalog ed. by K. Garlick (1960); museum catalog by A. C. Albinson et al. (2010); study by D. Goldring (1951).

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