Sir Thomas Lawrence, described by Sir Walter Scott as ‘one of the first geniuses of art’, effectively transformed portraiture during his lifetime, acting as a harbinger for the technique we associate more readily with modern masters of the genre such as Sir John Lavery and John Singer-Sargent: a combined vitality of expression and medium which brings the subject alive.
Lawrence was the fourteenth of sixteen children (five of whom survived): the son of a Bristol innkeeper. He showed early promise; Fanny Burney wrote of that ‘lovely boy [who displayed] extraordinary skill in drawing’. When the family moved to Bath in 1779, Lawrence was already executing pastel portrait sketches for a fee. These lack the hallmarks of his mature style, but are necessary reminders of the importance of draughtsmanship for the artist. Joseph Farington recorded that: ‘He [first] drew my portrait with black chalk on the canvas, which employed him near two hours’. As Lawrence’s career developed it was the canvas that became his public showcase but he continued to execute pencil studies, that perhaps best embody his Presidential address to students of the Royal Academy: ‘Composition, colour, arrangement of light and shade, all are lost in the power of expression’.Read more