The National Portrait Gallery in London has finally packed up and shipped off the exhibit that has had me gasping with longing for months.
Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance opens this week at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.
Lawrence is interesting to me not just because he is one of the foremost chroniclers of aristocratic Regency life, but because he lived such a fascinating Regency-era life.
Born in Bristol, he moved with his family to Bath when he was still a young child. And by the time he was ten, it seemed like the pattern of his life was already set.
He was already supporting his family with his art. And he was already laboring to dig them out from under staggering debt.
Really, the only element that was missing as a theme in his life was thwarted passion.
That would come later, in spades.
Lawrence enjoyed powerful patronage from an early age. Even when he was still a young producer of fashionable pastel miniature portraits, he counted such august personages as the Duchess of Devonshire and Sarah Siddons among his sitters. Later, he would become a favorite of the Prince Regent himself, and would go on to paint the portraits of military heroes, politicians, actresses, and the cream of the aristocracy in general.
He was always, always in debt. Nobody seems to know why. He wasn’t a gambler, he didn’t live an ostentatious life. He did have a habit of buying up Old Master paintings, apparently, but evidently this wasn’t enough to account for his chronic money problems.
And his tortured love life is pretty well documented, too. His main passions seem to have been split between the two daughters of his old client, the actress Sarah Siddons.
That must have been an utterly delightful little love triangle. Can you imagine being one of the sisters?
Well, I certainly can. But then, I have a bit of a fevered imagination, don’t I?
You can read more about charming, humble, talented, lovelorn old Thomas Lawrence here, for free, or you can go nuts and buy the exhibit book. It looks dreamy, doesn’t it? I strongly suspect that I will be shelling out for that book before long.
Or you can just gaze at all the painfully human faces from the past that he captured for us, via the magic of the internet.