Sir Thomas Lawrence Arrives at Yale

Opening today, February 24, 2011: Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will be on view at the Yale Center for British Art until June 5, 2011.

Kristine and Jo Manning both saw the exhibition in its first venue at the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Victoria hopes to be there in a few days…and I will report on my visit.  You can read our previous posts on this blog on 10/20/10, 1/7-8-9-10/11, and 2/2/11.  We find Sir Thomas to be a fascinating subject and the exhibition equally so.

Thomas Lawrence, self-portrait from 1788, right, was born in Bristol in 1769. He was a child prodigy and by age 10, when his family moved to Bath, he supported then with his drawings in pastels.  He moved to London at age 18 and was soon hailed as an up and coming talented successor to Sir Joshua Reynolds, then Britain’s leading portraitist.

One of his fine portraits, of a friend’s wife, Mary Hamilton, is shown in the exhibition, and makes one eager for more of the early pastels. But clients were eager for portraits in oils, and Lawrence excelled here too. He drew Mary Hamilton in pencil, red and black chalk in 1789. The British Museum, which owns the work, writes, “This important drawing of Mary Hamilton is arguably the most beautiful female portrait of its type remaining in this country.”  A detail of the drawing was used as the cover for a 2008 exhibition at the British Museum The Intimate Portrait, below.

Lawrence’s portrait of Queen Charlotte,  wife of George III, brought him fame and eventually fortune. Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790, the canvas was praised for its detail and its fine brushwork.

The stunning portrait of actress Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby, exhibited at the RA in 1790, is one of the exhibition posters offered for purchase.  For information on the Yale exhibition, the catalogue, posters and more, click here.   Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829) began her London stage career in 1777, appearing in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. She became the object of Lord Derby’s affections, and after his first wife died, Farren married him in 1797. She thus retired from the theatre and became a countess, wife of a prominent Whig member of the House of Lords. They were parents of three children.

Jonathan Jones, reviewing the exhibition as shown in London, wrote in The Guardian: “Lawrence is a painter who triumphed in his lifetime, yet was forgotten afterwards. Why was he neglected? The question echoes through this extremely interesting exhibition… It is because he associated with the wrong royal… Raddled and bloated and unpopular, George IV looks out of Lawrence’s Wallace Collection masterpiece as if he knows full well that in centuries to come, people will joke that ‘there are pieces of lemon peel floating in the Thames that would make a better monarch’.”

But Lawrence’s relationship with the Prince Regent, later George IV, was lucrative and certainly added to his fame. The Regent sent Lawrence around Europe to paint the leaders of the allied victory over Napoleon. The paintings hang in Windsor Castle, though many copies executed in Lawrence’s studio, can be seen in palaces, mansions and museums worldwide.

The Duke of Wellington was the real hero of the  battle, but many, including a coalition of European leaders contributed to the long-sought defeat of Napoleon. Lawrence painted the Duke a number of times, including here on the back of Copenhagen, the horse who carried him throughout the day-long Battle of Waterloo.

Victoria has long adored this painting, from the collection of the Chicago Art Institute. As a child, she often stood in front of Mrs.Jens Wolff and wondered what made this elegant lady so sad. The portrait was commissioned in 1802 or 03 by the sister of Mrs. Wolff and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815.  Isabella Wolff was the wife of the Danish Consul in London; they divorced in 1813. She is portrayed as the

Erythraean Sibyl (similar to the Sistine Chapel version) and she gazes at a book of engravings by Michelangelo. Lawrence and Isabella Wolff may have been romantically involved for some years, though why it took the artist a dozen years to complete the portrait is a good question. They continued to write to one another until her death.

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will be on display at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT,  until June 5, 2011.  We will report  again after our visit. For more information on the Yale Center for British Art, click here.

Thos. Lawrence's Countess of Wilton Fetches £1,777,250

In light of the recent posts on this blog by Jo Manning and others regarding Sir Thomas Lawrence, we thought we’d let you know that Lawrence’s portrait of Mary, Countess of Wilton (1801-1858), above, recently sold for £1,777,250 at Christie’s in London.

Of special note is the fact that the Countess of Wilton was the daughter of Edward Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, and his second wife, the celebrated Irish beauty and actress Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), whom Lawrence painted early in his career and whose full length portrait won Lawrence name recognition and kudos when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790. You can read my prior post about the Farren portrait and the Regency Power and Brilliance Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London here.

Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby

Elizabeth (the daughter) married Thomas Egerton, 2nd Earl of Wilton, the second son of Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster. The Countess of Wilton sat for her portrait in 1829, the year before Lawrence’s death. On the Countess’s death, we have the following:

“At Egerton-lodge. Melton Mowbray, the Countess of Wilton. The deceased lady had been for some time a little indisposed, but fatal results were not anticipated until shortly before her death. The late Countess was very highly esteemed at Melton, both in aristic circles and among the poor, to whom she was endeared by her active charity. The deceased lady was the youngest (and onlv survivor) of the three children of Edward, 12th Earl of Derby, by his second countess (Miss Eliza Farren, the celebrated actress). Her Ladyship was born on the 23rd of March, 1801, so that she was in the 58th year of her age. She was married to the Earl of Wilton on the 29th of November, 1821, and her ladyship leaves two sons and three daughters. The present Earl of Derby (the 14th Earl) stands in the relation of half-nephew to her ladyship, and (being born on the 29th of March, 1799) is two years older than his half-aunt.” —Manchester Guardian.

For full notes and provenance on the Countess’s portrait, visit the Christie’s site here.

Regency Power & Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery

Hard on the heels of Jo’s wonderful series of posts on Sir Thomas Lawrence, I thought I’d share with you the fact that whilst in London recently I had the chance to take in the exhibition of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s works entitled Regency Power and Brilliance. You can read all about the Exhibition itself in a prior post on this blog by clicking here. This has really been a banner year for me as during my past two trips to London I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen many iconic British paintings in person. My visit to the Lawrence exhibition reminded me just what a brilliant artist he was.

Ironically, the paintings below were hung side by side on the same wall.

Queen Charlotte
Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby
These are each enormous, full length paintings and it was possible to get up really close to each. The detail was stupendous.
The way in which Lawrence rendered Queen Charlotte’s face and the pearls is uncanny, whilst the details of her dress were brilliant – the silk ribbons, the lace overlay on her dress and the airy lace on the sleeves were a sight to behold. The detail on the fur of the muff in the Farren portrait made one want to reach out and stroke it, so life-like did it appear.  Incidentally, I bought the poster of the Farren portrait, but have yet to have it framed.

I also saw two lesser known, but equally stunning, portraits, the first being the drawing below.

This pencil, black and red chalk drawing of Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire done in 1819 is just marvelous. Truly, this picture does not do it justice. Suffice to say that I spent many minutes gazing at Bess’s arresting face.

Is the painting above not one of the most stunning examples of male Regency beauty? The sitter is Arthur Atherley, who had recently graduated from Eton College, which can be seen in the background. So who was Arthur Atherley? There’s not much out there on him, he went on to become a M.P. and Wikipedia has a brief bio on him, but there’s not much else to be found on the web. Really, with such a face and air of insouciance, you’d have thought he’d have gone on to be a serious Brummell rival.

But back to iconic paintings – also included in the Exhibit were these two portraits.

The Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV

and last, but never least . . . .

The Duke of Wellington
Lawrence painted the Duke of Wellington seven times in all and, really, each portrait is equally as good as the next. Again, Lawrence’s superb talent for portraiture is evident in the details of this painting – the folds of the cravat, the red ribbon. When standing before this portrait, one really does feel the force of the Duke’s penetrating gaze.
Hats off to the exceptional talents of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and to the
National Portrait Gallery for mounting this fabulous Exhibition, which moves across the pond to the Yale Center for British Art where it will run from 02/24/11 – 06/05/11.

Rex Whistler, Imaginative Painter, Romantic Hero…

First, know that English artist Rex Whistler (1905-1944) was no relation at all to American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), however amusing it would be to link their work. 

Rex Whistler, self-portrait, 1934
Rex Whistler was born in Kent and showed enormous talent while still in his teens. However, he did not do well in school, nor at the Royal Academy where he was expelled.  More successful was his stay at the Slade School of Art where he made friends with the Honourable Stephen Tennant, and later with Tennant’s friend poet Siegfried Sassoon.

While still at Slade, at age 22, he was hired to paint a mural in the basement cafe of the Tate Gallery. He worked with novelist Edith Olivier (1872–1948) on illustrating the story of seven people who search for exotic fare: Expedition in Search of Rare Meats.

According to the publications of the restaurant,  “They leave on bicycles, carts and horses from the ‘Duchy of Epicurania’, and travel through strange and wonderful lands encountering unicorns, truffle dogs and two giant gluttons guarding the entrance to a cave. The story ends with the travellers returning to a joyful homecoming, and the diet of the people, which had previously consisted of dry biscuits, is transformed.”
The mural still decorates the restaurant in the Tate Britain, where we have occasionally dined. Once I saw John Malkovich also enjoying the excellent food and renowned wine list. Here is a link to the restaurant.

Between the world wars, Rex Whistler knew, socialized and painted many of  London’s social elite, sometimes known as the “Bright Young Things”. 
One of the things he is often remembered for, perhaps at the expense of his other achievements, is the set of reversible faces he drew, later incorporated into a book written by his brother and published in 1947.

Rex Whistler’s reversible faces
Rex Whistler went on to design more murals, book illustrations, commerical posters, stage designs and scenery, and many other artistic projects.  One of the most famous is the mural he painted at Plas Newyyd on the Island of Anglesey in Wales for the Marquess of Anglesey (this house has an interesting history I will write about another time.)

Rex Whistler, one of the “Bright Young Things” who often stayed at Plas Newyyd designed a fanstasy mural for the mansion’s dining room. While he was cavorting with this set, he fell in love with Lady Caroline Paget, whom he painted many times.
Whistler painted himself into the mural.

Lady Caroline Paget

When war broke out, Rex Whistler joined the Welsh Guards as an officer.  He was killed in Normandy in 1944.

Whistler photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1927

Among Whistler’s other projects is a room in Montisfort Abbey, in Hampshire, a trompe d’oeil that has enchanted viewers ever since.

Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire
Rex Whistler Room
Mottisfont Abbey detail

Rex Whistler in 1936

Thomas Lawrence Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

Princess Sophia

 The National Portrait Gallery in London is staging an exhibition called, “Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance” from 21 October 2010 – 23 January 2011. Thomas Lawrence was the greatest British portrait painter of his generation., and this exhibition, the first to focus on Lawrence’s work in the UK for over thirty years, explores his development into the most celebrated and influential artist in Europe at the start of the nineteenth century. Featuring over fifty works, it showcases the artist’s greatest paintings and drawings alongside lesser known works, drawn from public and private collections around the world. When it closes in London, the exhhibition will move to the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut from 24 February to 5 June 2011. This will be the first exhibition in the United Kingdom since 1979 to examine Lawrence’s work and the first substantial presentation of this artist in the United States. It will present Lawrence as the most important British portrait painter of his generation and will explore his development as one of the most celebrated and influential European artists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. By his untimely death in 1830 Lawrence had achieved the greatest international reach and reputation of any British artist.

A new book called Thomas Lawrence: Regency Brilliance and Power has been published in conjunction with the exhibition, edited by Cassandra Albinson, Peter Funnell, and Lucy Peltz, with essays by Cassandra Albinson, Peter Funnell, and Marcia Pointon.  This important book explores Lawrence’s political friendships and allegiances along with his exceptional role as witness to significant historical events, and contrasts these with his remarkable ability to depict the charm and innocence of childhood. Elected President of the Royal Academy in 1820, Lawrence was instrumental in establishing the status of the artist in 19th-century Britain.

Cassandra Albinson is Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art. Peter Funnell is the nineteenth-century curator at the National Portrait Gallery, where Lucy Peltz is the eighteenth-century curator. To coincide with the publication of the book (October 2010),

In fact, many of Lawrence’s works have become iconic and need no explanation as to the identity of the sitter, like these below:

And our favorites . . . . .

I can only hope that at least one of the Wellington portraits will be on view when I visit the Exhibition in London in December.