Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A., Bristol 1769 - 1830 London
Thomas Lawrence was born in Bristol, where his father was an innkeeper. His debut as a crayon portrait painter was made at Oxford, where he was well patronized, and in 1782 the family settled in Bath, where the young artist soon found himself fully employed in taking crayon likenesses of the fashionable members of society for a guinea or a guinea and a half a head. In 1784 he gained the prize and silver-gilt palette of the Society of Arts for a crayon drawing after Raphael’s “Transfiguration” and began to paint in oil.
Lawrence travelled to London in 1787 where he was kindly received by Reynolds, and entered the Royal Academy. In 1791 he became an associate of the Academy, and the death of Sir Joshua in 1792 provided the opportunity for even greater success. He soon won royal patronage, and, with both Reynolds and Hoppner dead, became the most fashionable portrait painter of his day. He was at once appointed painter to the Dilettanti Society, and painter in ordinary to the king, taking Reynolds’ place. In 1794 he became a Royal Academician and was recognized as the most successful portrait painter of the day, having as sitters the most important, fashionable, and talented individuals of his age. He would paint English royalty and ultimately most of the crowned heads of Europe.
In 1815 he was knighted. In 1818, after the fall of Napoleon, Lawrence was sent by George IV to the conference at Aix-la-Chapelle to paint the dignitaries assembled there (portraits in Waterloo Gallery, Windsor Castle, England). In Austria and Italy he made portraits of state and Church officials and everywhere received flattering marks of distinction from princes, due as much to his courtly manners as to his merits as an artist. After eighteen months he returned to England, and on the day of his arrival was chosen president of the Royal Academy, taking the place of West, who had died a few days before. He held the office from 1820 to his death.