Thomas Lawrence England
4-13-1769 Bristol, ENG – 1-7-1830 London, ENGBack to Artist IndexView Artists Paintings
Thomas Lawrence was a child prodigy. At the age of ten, having moved to Bath, he was supporting his family with his pastel portraits. At eighteen he went to London and soon established his reputation as a portrait painter in oils, receiving his first royal commission, a portrait of Queen Charlotte, in 1790. He stayed at the top of his profession until his death, aged 60, in 1830.
Self-taught, he was a brilliant draughtsman and known for his gift of capturing a likeness, as well as his virtuoso handling of paint. Thomas Lawrence's love affairs were not happy his tortuous relationships with Sally and Maria Siddons became the subject of several books and, in spite of his success, he spent most of life deep in debt. He never married.
In 1794 he became a full member of the Royal Academy. Although commissions were pouring in, Thomas Lawrence was in financial difficulties. His debts would stay with him for the rest of life: he narrowly avoided bankruptcy and had to be bailed out by wealthy sitters and friends, and died insolvent.
Another source of unhappiness in Lawrence's life was his romantic entanglement with two of Sarah Siddons' daughters. He fell in love first with Sally, then transferred his affections on to her sister Maria, then broke with Maria and turned to Sally again.
Lawrence's departures from portraiture were very rare. In the early 1790s he completed two history pictures: Homer reciting his poems, a small picture of the poet in a pastoral setting; and Satan summoning his legions.
By now, to keep up with the demand for replicas of his portraits, he was making use of studio assistants, most notable of whom would be William Etty and George Henry Harlow.
Eventually, in September 1818, Thomas Lawrence was able to make his postponed trip to the continent to paint the allied leaders, first at Aachen and then at the conference of Vienna, for what would become the Waterloo Chamber series, housed in Windsor Castle. His sitters included Tsar Alexander, Emperor Francis I of Austria, the King of Prussia, Field-Marshal Prince Schwarzenberg, Archduke Charles of Austria and Henriette his wife, and a young Napoleon II, as well as various French and Prussian ministers. In May 1819, still under orders from the Prince Regent, he left Vienna for Rome to paint Pope Pius VII and Cardinal Consalvi.
At one time Thomas Lawrence was more popular in the United States and France than he was in Britain, and some of his best known portraits, including those of Elizabeth Farren, Sarah Barrett Moulton, and Charles Lambton the "Red Boy" found their way to the United States during the early 20th century enthusiasm for English portraits.
Art Movement: Neoclassicism
Traveled: France, Austria, Italy
Influenced: William Etty, George Henry Harlow