Monday, August 9, 2021

How Thomas Lawrence Painted a Portrait

Unfinished portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence (English, 1769-1830) reveal insights into his painting methods. 


"Lawrence always painted standing. ‘His constant practice was to begin by making a drawing of the head full size on canvass; carefully tracing dimensions and expression. This took up one day’ 

[I'm quoting from a webpage of National Portrait Gallery who sources these insights from Lawrence's own writings, those of his sitters, and of his early biographer Allan Cunningham, 1833 pp.194-5."] 

"At the next sitting, Lawrence would begin to paint the head."

"Lawrence often kept his sitters for three hours at a time and generally required eight or nine sittings, according to Cunningham (Cunningham 1833 p.194). But many sessions were shorter."

"In 1803, in the face of mounting debts, Lawrence claimed, ‘I have now four and five sitters in a day and have no choice without absolutely affronting them between receiving them and finishing other pictures’ (Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1954, p.10), while his friend, Elizabeth Croft, wrote of him admitting ‘four sitters for two hours each in bright summer days, stating that he painted from sunrise to sunset, except for correcting engravings and for hurried meals (Layard 1906 p.246)." 

"When painting at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, Lawrence noted that the average length of his sittings was two hours and that his sitters, ‘the three greatest monarchs in recent political importance’, had sat to him six or seven times (Williams 1831, vol.2, pp.119-20)."
Online resources:
Sir Thomas Lawrence was mostly self-taught and he became president of the Royal Academy.
More about his method at the National Portrait Gallery website.

Previous posts:

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance


Courbet said...

I find this so interesting. These paintings seem to go against the ‘general to specific’ axiom- as did the bouguereau portraits.

Fredrik Arnerup said...

While the faces on his portraits are superb, looking at his completed portraits, it often looks as though the head has been pasted on the body. It works ok for men with high collars, but ladies with long necks look wrong. I suppose that is the danger of not looking at the whole picture.