Wednesday 7 January 2015

Sir Thomas Lawrence: Portrait of the Honourable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst

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

On this day in 1830, the famed portrait artist, Sir Thomas Lawrence, died. Perhaps more than anyone,  this innkeeper's son left behind a body of work that captures the glamour of the Regency era and with no formal teaching, Lawrence became one of the most celebrated artists of his era. His client book included the most illustrious names in England and, as President of the Royal Academy, his wielded enormous influence in the artistic landscape of his time.

The painting that has caught my eye today is Portrait of the Honorable Mrs Seymour Bathurst, a work begun by Lawrence in 1828, just two years before his death. Born Julia Hankey, the sitter in the portrait was due to marry Lieutenant Colonel the Honourable Thomas Seymour Bathurst in 1829, and this painting was commissioned to mark that happy occasion. In fact, the portrait was not completed in time for the wedding and was not actually delivered to the client until 1830, just after Lawrence passed away.

Portrait of the Honorable Mrs Seymour Bathurst

Bathurst was a veteran of Waterloo, Member of Parliament for St Germans and son of the third Earl Bathurst. Daughter of a West India merchant, Julia was thirty years old at the time the painting was started and though she would live until 1877 her husband died in 1834, just five years after his marriage. At the time of the portrait such unhappy events were in the future though, and the painting celebrates a far brighter moment.

Lawrence has captured Julia as a vibrant, lively beauty swathed in a fine white gown, highlighted with bright pink adornments. Gold jewellery provides another bright splash of colour to her outfit whilst the dark background serves only to keep the eye firmly on the lady at the centre of the canvas. With her slightly parted lips and cocked head, Julia has a playful air quite unlike more formal portraiture, the single red rose beside her symbolic of the forthcoming nuptials.

No doubt both bride and groom alike would have been delighted with this most fetching work and it seems that the Bathurst family were particularly fond of it, as it remained in their hands until 1986.

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