Sir Thomas Lawrence, an English painter, born in Bristol, May 4, 1769, died in London, Jan. 7,1830. While a child he drew likenesses with the pen and pencil, and when only six years old took portraits in profile of Lord and Lady Kenyon. At this time his father was the landlord of the Black Bear inn at Devizes, a fashionable resort of travellers to Bath, and the personal beauty and genius of young Lawrence were wont to excite the admiration of the guests. After a very imperfect education he began to paint, and at 10 years of age attempted such ambitious and difficult subjects as Peter denying Christ, Hainan and Mordecai, and the like. In 1782 his father removed to Bath, and placed him under the instruction of Hoare, the cravon artist. Here also he found abundant employment for his pencil in executing half-guinea likenesses of visitors to the wells, thereby acquiring a mastery over the details of costume. At the age of 13 he received from the society of arts the great silver pallet, with an additional present of five guineas, for a copy in crayon of the "Transfiguration." In 1787 he removed with his father to London, exhibited in Somerset house the same year, and almost immediately became the fashionable portrait painter of the day, a preeminence which he maintained for more than 40 years'. In 1791 he was chosen a "supplemental associate " of the royal academy, his age not permitting him to become a candidate for associate membership (the only instance on record in which such an honor has been bestowed), and in the succeeding year was appointed by George III. to succeed Sir Joshua Reynolds as his principal painter in ordinary.
During the next 20 years commissions for portraits flowed in upon him in such abundance that he was obliged to resign all attempts at historical composition, in which he had given some youthful promise. He was generally considered the first portrait painter of the time, and the members of the royal family and almost all persons distinguished in the fashionable world, or in literature, art, science, or the learned professions, were numbered among his sitters. His portraits of beautiful women and children were particularly celebrated. While at the height of his fame he was commissioned by the prince regent to paint the portraits of the sovereigns, statesmen, and generals who had participated in the overthrow of Napoleon, in the performance of which duty he visited the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, and thence went to Vienna and to Rome, where he painted.the pope. This series of portraits, which is of unequal merit, is deposited in Waterloo hall at Windsor. In 1820, during his absence on the continent, he was elected president of the royal academy, as successor of Benjamin West. He had some years previous received the honor of knighthood.
His reputation has not wholly survived him, as, notwithstanding his facility in expressing individual character, he was inclined to an over-refinement of gracefulness, and his portraits sometimes degenerated into a mannered insipidity. His personal character was in every respect engaging, and he was universally beloved for his amiability and generosity. Although he received large sums for his portraits, his income amounting to from £10,000 to £15,000 a year, his liberal style of living and frequent pecuniary aid to brother artists prevented him from becoming a rich man. His " Life and Correspondence," by D. E. Williams, appeared in 1831. A collection of engravings from his choicest works, with biographical and critical notices, was published in London in 1845 (royal folio, 50 plates).