The glamour of Thomas Lawrence

Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The other day I saw the excellent exhibition about Thomas Lawrence, the Regency portrait painter, currently on at the National Portrait Gallery in London. I was blown away by the intense glamour of his pictures. Here are some Lawrence portraits from National Trust collections.

Henrietta Noel-Hill, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, at Attingham, Shropshire. ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) showed great talent for drawing and painting from an early age. After his innkeeper father went bankrupt in 1780, the young Thomas’s pastels and drawings became the family’s chief source of income. In 1787 he moved to London and first exhibited at the annual Royal Academy exhibition. In 1789, aged just twenty, he was commissioned to paint Queen Charlotte.

The Prince Regent in Field Marshal's uniform, by Sir Thomas Lawrence and studio, at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Lawrence rose to the top of the Regency art world, being knighted in 1815 and becoming President of the Royal Academy in 1820. The Prince Regent, later George IV, commissioned him to paint a series of portraits of those instrumental in the downfall of Napoleon for the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.

Maria Woodley, Mrs Riddell, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

Lawrence was adept at portraying the dashing vigour of soldiers, statesmen and dandies, but he was also extremely accomplished at capturing the beauty and character of his female sitters. His manner was so charming and flirtatious that it was said women were always falling in love with him while sitting for their portrait.

Lydia, Lady Acland, and her children, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, at Killerton, Devon. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The children in Lawrence’s portraits, moreover, always look spontaneous and carefree. He seems to have had a rare combination of social empathy, artistic perception and technical skill.

Isabella Wolff, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, at Croft Castle, Herefordshire. ©NTPL/John Hammond

His paintings are also fascinating in how they convey the Regency cult of Sensibility through depictions of sparkling eyes, parted lips, tousled hair, pensive attitudes and moody skies.

8 Responses to “The glamour of Thomas Lawrence”

  1. Barry Leach Says:

    The portrait of Lady Peel by Lawrence in the Frick Museum library is one of my favorites – actually the one I know the best. I love the way her red feathers glow in the dim light of that room. Also, the Met has a couple of portraits by Lawrence – Lady Maria Conyngham and Richard James Lane.

    I shall be in London on New Year’s day and I plan to get to the National Portrait Gallery.

  2. columnist Says:

    Oh I wish I was there to see the NPG exhibition. I’m a great fan of Lawrence’s too.

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Barry, the Lady Peel has been borrowed from the Frick for this exhibition and I agree she looks stunning. Lawrence’s use of deep reds generally – not only in gowns and drapes but also in cheeks and lips – is fascinating. I think you will enjoy the exhibition. I particularly admired the portrait of the Duchesse de Berry, combining a white satin gown with a tartan toque – so chic.

    Columnist, perhaps you can get hold of the excellent catalogue.

  4. Janet Says:

    The Regency was just so glamorous, and Lawrence captured it all perfectly. My personal favorite is his portrait of Lady Maria Hamilton (with her coral necklace).

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Which no doubt inspired your own glamorous wedding dress, as recently seen on your and Courtney’s blog 🙂

  6. le style et la matiere Says:

    It does seem there is a love affair going on between the artist and his sitters. I recenty illustrated a post with Lawrence’s portrait of the Duchesse de Berry which is breath taking. I find the expressions and the use of color in his work so delicately beautiful.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Ah yes of course, how could I have missed it:

    In the case of Isabella Wolff, (bottom portrait shown above), Lawrence is thought to have had an actual affair, rather than a flirtation, with her. But even without the biographical hints, the sense of intimacy in his portraits is palpable, isn’t it?

  8. le style et la matiere Says:

    and now I’m embarrassed!

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