Politician and colonial administrator Richard Wellesley, first Marquess Wellesley, was the brother of the first Duke of Wellington. He served as Governor-General of Bengal from 1798 to 1805.
In April 1811 Joseph Farington noted that Lawrence had written to him regarding his astonishment at Wellesley’s use of make-up during sittings. Farington recorded: ‘With all [Wellesley’s] abilities he has so great a share of vanity that at the age of abt. 53 Lawrence has noticed when His Lordship sat to him for His Portrait, that his Lips were painted.’ Lawrence’s portrait, commissioned by the sitter, was completed in 1812 and exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. Wellesley later presented or bequeathed the work to Queen Victoria.
This copy, produced in Lawrence’s studio, may be the version purchased by art dealer Samuel Woodburn at the artist’s 1831 posthumous sale. It was purchased for the Government Art Collection from solicitor Edward Harold Riches (active 1907-60); the son of Robert Riches, who served as Librarian at the Probate Library and later the Bar Library. Edward’s brother, Robert A. Riches, was also Chief Librarian at the Bar Library, before being appointed Curator of Pictures at the Royal Courts of Justice. Robert arranged for his brother’s portrait of Wellesley to be sold to the Ministry of Works (then responsible for the Government collection) in 1960.
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.
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