Murray was, after Wellington, probably the most publicly respected officer of his generation, and later became an MP and Colonial Secretary. The portrait was probably begun in 1829, and like many of Lawrence’s later works (he died in 1830) was left unfinished...
This fine head sketch by Sir Thomas Lawrence shows one of the Duke of Wellington’s closest aides, General Sir George Murray. Murray was, after Wellington, probably the most publicly respected officer of his generation, and later became an MP and Colonial Secretary. The portrait was probably begun in 1829, and like many of Lawrence’s later works (he died in 1830) was left unfinished.
Murray first joined the army in 1789, and was one of the first officers to hold a position as quartermaster-general, an important position organizing supplies for the army, but which had never before formally existed. He was wounded in 1799 during the Helder expedition, but in 1800 was sent to Egypt to plan the continued campaign against Napoleon there. A series of important posts followed taking him across Europe, but his most important was as quarter-master general of the army under Wellington during the Peninsular war until 1814. Wellington found him indispensible, and he deserves much of the credit for the successful advance into Spain against the French forces.
At the end of the war Murray was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada with the rank of Lieutenant General, and although he wanted to return to Europe to help defeat Napoleon during the Hundred Days, he could not arrive in time, much to
Wellington’s chagrin. He did however stay in France as chief of staff of the allied army of occupation.
-Murray’s subsequent positions included a spell as governor of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst from 1819-1824, after which he embarked on a political career. He was MP for Perth County from 1824-1830, and largely followed Wellington’s political lead. He held the post of Commander-in-Chief of Ireland from 1825-8, from when he served in Wellington’s government as Colonial Secretary until 1830. Although he was against voting reform, like Wellington, he did support Catholic emancipation. After Wellington’s fall, Murray again held government positions, but not with a seat in the Cabinet.
The present portrait shows Lawrence’s skill for capturing likeness and realism with great rapidity. There is some confusion in the Lawrence literature about which portrait of Murray this is, for he had also sat to Lawrence in 1812. It appears most likely, however, that it may be the beginnings of the full-length which Murray ordered in 1829 shortly before Lawrence died. Murray wrote to Lawrence’s executors in 1830 hoping ‘that it may be found to be in a state sufficiently advanced to admit of its being completed by one of Sir Thomas’s pupils…’ This was evidently not done, for the picture was, probably later in the 19th Century, semi-finished with a layer of thick brown over-paint laid straight on top of the bare canvas. This later addition has now been removed. The full-length was intended to be given ‘to the county of Perth’, and had, according to the records of Lawrence’s executors, been the subject of just two sittings and was not paid for. Murray knew Lawrence well, for not only was he a pallbearer at the artist’s funeral, but he also had his natural daughter, Louisa Murray, painted by Lawrence in about 1825-6. That full-length, commonly known as ‘Miss Murray’, is one of Lawrence’s best known child portraits, and is now part of the Iveagh Bequest at Kenwood.
Thomas Lawrence began his portrait practice at the age of just ten, when, for a guinea a go, guests at his father’s inn near Bath could be drawn by a celebrated local prodigy, hailed as a Mozart of art. Sitters included the young William Pitt, drawn in profile in the early 1780s [Private Collection, formerly with Philip Mould Ltd]. Although Lawrence’s first serious portrait commissions were done in pastel, it was not long before he felt able to advance onto oils, a remarkable feat given that he never really bothered with any formal artistic training.
An early success was the well-known portrait of Elizabeth Farren, a famous beauty and mistress of the Earl of Derby [Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]. Painted in 1790, when Lawrence was just twenty, it astonished viewers at that year’s Royal Academy exhibition as a work of daring coquettishness, full of movement and vibrancy, and approached with a freshness only possible with innate talent. Another early work, again from 1790, was his first royal commission, a full-length portrait of Queen Charlotte [National Gallery, London]. Despite his own frank admission that Charlotte resembled ‘an old grey parrot’, the work was widely acclaimed. Reynolds, then President of the Academy, reportedly declared, ‘In you, sir, the world will expect to see accomplished what I have failed to achieve.’
 Michael Levey, Sir Thomas Lawrence (London 2005) p. 96