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The Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, was built between 1696 and 1751 to home retired and disabled naval officers. The idea for the hospital came from James II, but it was taken up by Queen Mary. Sir Christopher Wren was employed to design the scheme and he was assisted by the Hospital Clerk of Works, Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Near the centre of this painting, a group of figures point to a statue in the Grand Square, where the standing statue of King George II, designed by sculptor John Michael Rysbrack and erected in 1735, stands today. The seated figure bears little resemblance to Rysbrack’s statue because the painting is based on an image published a year before it was erected but when it was known to be in prospect.
This painting is derived from one of two large prints of the hospital, after drawings by Thomas Lawranson. The prints were first published in 1734 by the artist on two sheets, joined at the centre, and were dedicated to Queen Caroline (wife of George II). They were issued again by Lawranson in 1841/42, when he also advertised a ‘method of varnishing them’ because they were too large to easily be framed.
Little is known of Thomas Lawranson. He is thought to have been born in Ireland. He sent a self-portrait to the first exhibition of the Society of Artists in 1760 and became a regular contributor there until 1777. He was made a fellow of the Incorporated Society of Artists of Great Britain (later Society of Artists) and became a director in 1772. In 1771 Lawranson was also elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He had a son, the painter and engraver William Lawranson (c.1742-c.1783), with his wife, Mary. The family lived at No. 1 Great Russell Street, in Bloomsbury, London, where Lawranson probably died soon after he last exhibited his work in 1777. Today, two examples of his portraits are in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
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