In the past we have learnt something of the iconic artist, Thomas Lawrence, and the painting of Elizabeth Farren that was so disliked by the lady it depicted. Today we make a return visit to Lawrence's studio to hear the story of another portrait that was disliked by the illustrious lady who sat for it, this time the Queen of England herself.
In 1789 the 20 year old Thomas Lawrence was riding high on a wave of success. He had exhibited at the Royal Academy to acclaim, with an illustrious and wealthy client list. For Queen Charlotte, meanwhile, things were not going quite so happily; with the king seriously ill, Charlotte found herself driven to distraction by worry for her husband as his physicians struggled to come up with a diagnosis, let alone a suitable treatment.
As the king convalesced in the early autumn, Lawrence was summoned to Windsor Castle for his first royal commission, a portrait of Queen Charlotte. The queen was far from enthusiastic about the prospect and when she met the artist, found little in his character to improve her mood. Lawrence rejected the bonnet that she intended to wear for the sitting and found his subject lacking in animation; as a result, he encouraged her to chat as he painted, something that the queen did not enjoy in the slightest. Despite Charlotte's reservations, her household and children warmed to the artist greatly and enjoyed his company at Windsor.
The finished portrait depicts a woman deep in thought and I have always found Charlotte's expression to be most rueful as she sits alone before a view of Eton College. Autumnal trees are visible to the horizon and to me the portrait gives a strong impression of not just a world approaching autumn, but a woman who is likewise growing older.
When Lawrence presented the finished painting to the queen she was far from impressed with the finished result. The royal family declined to buy the work for the asking price of 80 guineas and instead it joined the portrait of Farren on display at the Royal Academy in 1790. The works were highly acclaimed and to this day Lawrence's portrait of Queen Charlotte remains a deservedly famous image, capturing a woman lost in thought at a time of enormous emotional upheaval.
Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.