Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) portrait painter: self portrait
Mezzotintpublished 22 April 1830
About the work
This mezzotint shows Sir Thomas Lawrence, looking younger than his c.56 years. It has been suggested that the original oil version of the portrait was commissioned in about 1825 by George IV. The king is reported to have asked the artist to paint himself in ‘the costume of his Doctor-of-laws gown’ but without the cap as ‘we shall not recognise you without your bald head’. Lawrence has instead depicted himself in everyday attire.
In February 1830, just after Lawrence’s death, it was announced in the press that ‘the relatives of the late Sir Thos. Lawrence’ were in possession of a self-portrait ‘completed on the Friday preceding his death’. The work was then being engraved by Samuel Cousins. An advertisement for Cousins’ mezzotint described it as ‘the only faithful and approved portrait of the late President’. This mezzotint by Cousins, published in April 1830, is undoubtedly the print referred to. Lawrence may have returned to the c.1825 commission just before his death on 7 January 1830, although it was clearly not ‘completed’.
The painting was sold through Christie’s on 18 June 1831 and bought by George Stanhope, seventh Earl of Chesterfield. Chesterfield sold the portrait to the Royal Academy six years later.
About the artist
Sir Thomas Lawrence was born in Bristol; the son of a supervisor of excise. In 1773 the family moved to Wiltshire to run a coaching inn but financial difficulties led them to move again to Bath, where Lawrence first worked as a portraitist. He may have had lessons from William Hoare, before enrolling at the Royal Academy schools in 1787. Aged 20, he received a royal commission for portraits of Queen Charlotte (1789-90) and Princess Amelia (1789). At 23 he replaced Reynolds as Painter-in-Ordinary and at 25, became a Royal Academician. Despite such success, he never escaped crippling debt. In 1815 he was knighted and commissioned to paint the Waterloo Chamber series of portraits. He replaced West as President of the Royal Academy in 1820.
Samuel Cousins was a well known mezzotint engraver of portraits and decorative subjects after his contemporaries and 18th-century British artists. Born in Exeter, he was the pupil of, and assistant to, the engraver S. W. Reynolds. Cousins set up his own business in London in 1825 and would later become the first engraver to be elected a Royal Academician. He engraved plates after the foremost artists of his day including Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873), Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873). His younger brother Henry Cousins (c.1809-1864) was also a mezzotint engraver.
- Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) portrait painter: self portrait
- published 22 April 1830
- height: 51.70 cm, width: 41.00 cm
- Purchased from Grosvenor Prints, May 2002
- bc: Saml. Cousins
- With Grosvenor Prints, London; from whom purchased by the Government Art Collection in May 2002
- GAC number