Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Sir Thomas Lawrence and a Portrait of Elizabeth Farren

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA FRS (Bristol, England, 13th April 1769 – London, England, 7th January 1830)

Today marks the anniversary of the death of a Sir Thomas Lawrence, president of the Royal Academy and artistic legend of the Regency era. Not only can I attest that Lawrence was a consummate gentleman, he remains one of my favourite artists and today, I feature one of his most iconic works of art, the portrait of Elizabeth Farren he first exhibited in 1790.




The 30 year old Farren was a hugely successful actress and renowned beauty when she sat for Lawrence. His portrait of her was one of a dozen submitted by Lawrence to the Royal Academy but it was the work that caught the eye of audiences, who were bowled over by Lawrence's depiction of texture and the character that shone through. Under Lawrence's brushstrokes Farren is an elegant, vibrant beauty framed against a pastoral background and draped in a dazzling array of fashionable textiles. One might almost reach out and touch the satins and silks she wears, one glove and a most flamboyant fur muff held casually in her hand as she gazes at the spectator.

Despite the glamour of the portrait, Farren was dismayed when she saw it and reproached the artist for making her too thin and appearing bent in the middle. She commented that she would prefer that he redo the painting to make her "a little fatter", a request he refused to honour. In fact the portrait captures an elegant, glamourous and somehow mischievous woman; her face is characterful and her clothes the height of fashion. So well-received was the painting when it was displayed that the artist reneged on the original price he agreed with Farren's lover, Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, and raised the purchase price from 60 guineas to 100!

Years later Farren would marry the man who had commissioned the work and take the title of Countess of Derby, whilst the portrait was an illustrious launch for the 21 year old Lawrence's career at the Academy. He went on to become one of the most sought-after artists in England, celebrated in the most illustrious circles of the Georgian and Regency era.

10 comments:

  1. Admired Lawrence's work for a long time, glad I'm not the only one!. The treatment of light and surface is so direct and confident. Always thought of him as a bit of a thwarted photographer.

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    1. What a lovely way of looking at it! I adore Lawrence, he captures his sitters so well not just physically, but their personality too.

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  2. Love this - its an amazing portrait - full of character. Her costume is fantastic too.
    Liz

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  3. You can "feel" the chill of the air. Great work.

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    1. I remember seeing this painting as a wee girl and being utterly fascinated with it; it's certainly an evocative work!

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  4. 'A bit fatter' must have been the 18th century version of photoshop! What a delightful, original composition.

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  5. You will be able to see close up Thomas Lawrence's 80 portraits of the leading characters involved in the war against Napoleon at Windsor Castle in 2015. The exhibition of his works and others are in the Waterloo Chamber and you will be able to enter the Chamber for the first time to view his works close up. Check the Royal Website for more details.
    http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/exhibitions/waterloo-at-windsor-1815-2015

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