Monday, 12 December 2011

Thomas Lawrence ~ Regency Portrait Painter Extraordinaire

Those of us who have a real passion for Regency clothing and the period in general, are very familiar with the image below. She is Margaret, Countess of Blessington, who was a darling of London Regency society, famous for her literary salons. It was painted in 1822, when she was around 33 years old.

Utterly gorgeous. Whenever I look at her, my eyes always linger on down to the fabric of her dress; I can almost feel that silk, it is so beautifully and accurately represented. Yes, of course, as a seamstress I appreciate the style of gown, but it is the quality of painting that draws me in.  I actually do rather love Art History, and completed a course at undergrad level (sadly not the entire degree), about 3 years ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

It is not just silk that this artist paints with such verisimilitude, look at Princess Sophia here (George IV's sister) in her velvet gown:

Again, you know that the fabric is velvet, you can feel the pile.  Lawrence was the portrait painter of the day, and with these 2 examples alone, you can see why.

With a star that shone so bright in the art world, it is no wonder he was chosen as Royal Painter in 1792 after the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and later on was elected as President of The Royal Academy in 1820. So it is time to find out a bit more about this artistic wonder, and just how he came to be Regency Portrait Painter Extraordinaire.

Now sadly, his reputation at the time of his illustrious career was well, a little infamous to say the least, with tales of his love life often preceding those about his work. He also suffered a breakdown much later on in his career, but was able to recover and continue as brilliantly as before. He never married.

Born to an inn keeper in the west on England in 1769, his talent and love of art was apparent at an early age; at 12 he had his own studio, and was accepted into The Royal Academy in 1787.  His first Royal Commission was of Queen Charlotte, in 1790. The Prince Regent later sent him across Europe to capture the likenesses of all those sovereigns who had assisted in the defeat of Napoleon, creating the great Waterloo Gallery in Windsor Castle around 1818-20. He remained The Royal Painter until his death.

What is little known about him is that he was quite a collector of art himself, and amassed a great collection of 'Old Master' paintings. So although he certainly made a great deal of money, he was just as quick it seems in the spending of it.

I cannot of course, leave off mentioning this mighty portrait of King George IV:

This version is from 1822, but Lawrence depicted the Regent, and then the King as he later was, in a similar pose for quite a few paintings, wearing different formal dress during various periods of his life. Lawrence did a pretty good job!! Reminiscent for me of another English King, the mighty Henry VIII. 

Lawrence died in 1830, rather suddenly, due to heart problems, or mismanagement by his medical team. He was laid to rest in St Paul's Cathedral.

Thank you Thomas Lawrence, for your outstanding contribution to 19th century portraiture, and for giving us costumiers beautiful examples of Regency Dress to drool over. Whilst I am on this thread (see what I did?!), I leave with one more fine example of a Regency beauty- well really the Extended Regency/Romantic era, of The Honourable Mrs Seymour Bathurst from 1828:

with love,

Further Reading:
'Thomas Lawrence- Regency Power & Brilliance.' Cassandra Albinson et al. Yale University Press 2010.
'Thomas Lawrence Portraits.' Richard Holmes. National Portrait Gallery Publications. 2010.