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Portrait of King George III

Thomas Lawrence

(1769-1830)
Sir Thomas Lawrence was a painter and draughtsman who dominated the Romanticism and Regency era with his striking likenesses that combined glamour, drama and the heroic, with sumptuous colour and a virtuoso handling of paint.

Biography

Born in Bristol, Lawrence was the youngest of five surviving children of a supervisor of excise named Thomas Lawrence and his wife, Lucy Sarah, née Hill, daughter of a reverend. In 1773, the family moved from Bristol to Devizes in Wiltshire, where his father became the landlord of The Black Bear, a well-known coaching inn where Lawrence first wielded his artistic prowess, producing pencil sketches of notable lodgers or local personalities. Despite his lack of formal education, Lawrence was described by contemporaries as handsome and charming, with polished manners and a gift for reciting poetry.

On the impetus of his father, Lawrence embarked upon a promotional art tour to Oxford and Bath, finally reaching London in about 1780 where he met Joshua Reynolds, who extolled the budding artist's genius. In 1783 he settled in Bath, completing small pastel portraits of the fashionable elite. Here, he befriended collectors, connoisseurs and patrons, gaining access to their collections and copying Old Master paintings, prints and drawings which provided him with a repertoire of motifs to fire his imagination and instigating his own collection which would come to include work by Raphael and Leonardo.

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Sir Thomas Lawrence was a painter and draughtsman who dominated the Regency era with his striking likenesses that combined glamour, drama and the heroic, with sumptuous colour and a virtuoso handling of paint. 

Born in Bristol, Lawrence was the youngest of five surviving children of a supervisor of excise named Thomas Lawrence and his wife, Lucy Sarah, née Hill, daughter of a reverend. In 1773, the family moved from Bristol to Devizes in Wiltshire, where his father became the landlord of The Black Bear, a well-known coaching inn where Lawrence first wielded his artistic prowess, producing pencil sketches of notable lodgers or local personalities. Despite his lack of formal education, Lawrence was described by contemporaries as handsome and charming, with polished manners and a gift for reciting poetry. 

On the impetus of his father, Lawrence embarked upon a promotional art tour to Oxford and Bath, finally reaching London in about 1780 where he met Joshua Reynolds, who extolled the budding artist’s genius. In 1783 he settled in Bath, completing small pastel portraits of the fashionable elite. Here, he befriended collectors, connoisseurs and patrons, gaining access to their collections and copying Old Master paintings, prints and drawings which provided him with a repertoire of motifs to fire his imagination and instigating his own collection which would come to include work by Raphael and Leonardo. 

Lawrence learnt more about portraiture and oil paints through an apprenticeship with the portrait painter William Hoare, whose work he copied, and Lawrence soon won an award from the Royal Society of Arts, where he later became a student in 1787. Lawrence soon left to set up a private practice, exhibiting his work at the Royal Academy’s exhibitions between 1787 and 1790, and in 1792 he was made a full academician. The sumptuous costume, crisp detail and fresh perspective on the English landscape gave his portraiture a heightened sense of glamourous sophistication, a quality favoured by King George III who appointed Lawrence his Painter in Ordinary in 1794.                                                                                                                                      

Lawrence was readily welcomed into Bath’s elite society, embarking upon a tempestuous but ultimately unsuccessful love affair with Maria and Sallydaughters of the famous actress Sarah Siddons. Despite his crippling debts at the time, Lawrence’s art never revealed his emotional and financial torment and he continued to forge valuable friendships with many contemporary collectors and patrons. 

In 1810 Lawrence was appointed principal court painter thereby acquiring other important patrons and in 1813, moved to a new residency in Russell Square where he remained until his death.  

In 1815, Lawrence went to Paris where he befriended the sculptor, Antonio Canova and was inspired by the work of Italian Renaissance mastersincluding RaphaelThe following year he won the patronage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold and in 1818 was sent to Aix-la-Chapelle to paint the allied sovereigns. Lawrence spent time in Vienna, until May 1819, he then proceeded to Rome where he was warmly welcomed by the Pope and Cardinal into the Quirinale Palace, completing portraits of his hosts for the Prince Regent back in England. Lawrence’s diplomacy and courtesy won him many supporters among royalty, religious persons, distinguished foreign ministers, aristocrats and fellow artists whilst abroad. In December 1819 he visited Florence, Parma and Venice, taking particular note of the work of Correggio and Parmigianino, and finally returning to England in March 1820. Later that year, the Royal Academy elected him as their President, a decision supported by King George IV who had selected his earlier swaggering, full-length portrait as his standard royal image by replacing the garter robes for those of the coronation. 

In 1825 the King sent Lawrence abroad to Paris one final time to paint the dauphin, the Duc d'Aumale, and King Charles X. By this point Lawrence was internationally renowned, a fact recognised by a succession of honours bestowed upon him by foreign art academies in Rome, Florence, Venice, Denmark and New York. 

After suffering a chill, Lawrence suddenly died on 7 January 1830 at home in London. His contemporaries venerated his kind, considerate temperament and his vast oeuvre, ranging from tender portrayals of children, such as the portrait of Charles William Lambton, informally known as The Red Boy, and fashionable women to psychologically penetrating characterisations of aristocratic intelligentsia such as King George III, Queen Charlotte and King George IVwhich stand as a moving legacy to one of the most influential portraitists in British history. 

His portraits are in the collections of prominent museums and galleries across around the world. Philip Mould & Company have bought and sold a variety of such portraits and notable sales include Lady Oglander and Portrait of Sally Siddonsother works by Lawrence currently for sale by Philip Mould & Company are listed in the Artworks section above and include King George IV, when Prince Regent. 

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500 Years of British Art