Monday 2 June 2014

Sir Thomas Lawrence: The Portrait of Queen Charlotte

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.

Queen Charlotte by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1789

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.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Debra Brown said...

I'm so glad the portrait was well received elsewhere.

Catherine Curzon said...

So am I; I think it's a lovely portrait.

Gem Twitcher said...

A beutiful portrait of a sad and caring woman-a true supporter of her Monarch.

Catherine Curzon said...

She really was; a devoted lady!

Unknown said...

Very nice post on a lovely portrait. I wonder what she didn't like about it, and why she wanted to wear a bonnet? I mean, she was already wearing a wig, so it's not like she would have been worried about grey in her hair.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you; I get the impression that Carlotte really isn't want the painting to be done, I think Lawrence was up against it whatever he did!

Aidan said...

I think that she was quite rude to Lawrence and a poor judge of paintings.She reacted in a similar fashion to Johan Zoffany`s Tribuna of the Uffizi.

Catherine Curzon said...

I would agree with that; I think it's a glorious work!