George Canning (1770-1827) Prime Minister
Mezzotintpublished 9 April 1829
About the work
This mezzotint after a portrait by Thomas Lawrence shows former Prime Minister George Canning standing before empty benches in the House of Commons, the Foreign Office Dispatch Box on the Front Bench denoting his status as Foreign Secretary. His alert, piercing look and tense, defensive posture give some impression of the sharp intelligence and drive of a man whose career was the target of much public comment and criticism.
The original portrait, on which this print is based, was commissioned by King George IV in 1825 and remains in the Royal Collection. Several copies were painted by Lawrence’s assistants in about 1826, when Canning’s portrait was displayed in British Embassies across the world. Two painted copies are in the Government Art Collection.
Lawrence himself made four portraits of Canning in total, between 1809 and 1826. The artist seems to have been on good terms with Canning, to whom it was said he shared a close physical resemblance.
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.