Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/286

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Lawrence
Lawrence
280

premium of five guineas and a silver palette for the first of these from the Society of Arts in London. The rules of the society alone prevented the award of their gold medal, as the work had not been executed within a year and a day of the date it was sent in to the Adelphi ; but to mark their sense of its merit they had the palette 'gilt all over.'

In his seventeenth year he began to paint in oils. One of his early efforts in oil colours was a 'Christ bearing the Cross.' some eight feet high, and another was a portrait of himself, which was more successful. So satisfied was he with these first attempts that he wrote to his mother that, 'excepting Sir Joshua, for the painting of a head I would risk my reputation with any painter in London.' This letter is dated 1786, and appears to have been written from London ; but the following year is that given by his chroniclers fir his migration from fiath to the metropolis, where he took handsome apartments in Leicester Square (No. 4). His father now purchased, with a legacy left to his daughter Anne, a small collection of stuffed birds and curiosities, then being exhibited in the Strand, and added thereto some of his son's works. But this, like his father's other ventures, proved a failure, not even paying its expenses. To the Royal Academy exhibition of this year he had contributed 'A Mad Girl.' 'A Vestal Virgin.' and five portraits. Soon the apartments in Leicester Square were given up, and a house taken in Duke Street, St. James's, where the whole family were reunited, and Lawrence removed his studio to 41 Jermyn Street, and in September 1787 entered the schools of the Royal Academy. His drawings of 'The Fighting Gladiator' and 'The Apollo Belvedere' distanced all competitors, Dut he did not contend for the medal. He obtained an introduction to Sir Joshua Reynolds, and took with him his portrait of himself in oils before mentioned. Reynolds examined it carefully, and, recommending him to study nature rather than the old masters, gave him a feneral invitation to visit him, of which jawrence availed himself. Reynolds always afterwards showed an interest in him. It is even stated, though on the doubtful authority of the lampooner John Williams, who wrote under the name of Antony Pasquin, that Reynolds once said of Lawrence, 'This young man has begun at a point of excellence where I left off.' Among other artists with whom he associated at this time were Joseph Farington [q. v.], Robert Smirke [q. v.], and Henry Fuseli [q. v.] ; while his beauty, manners, and talent lor reciting poetry soon gained him a welcome in high society. His professional position 6teadily progressed. Among the list of his portraits given by his biographer, Williams, as executed prior to or immediately after coming to London, are found the names of such patrons of the arts as Lord Mulgrave and Mr. Locke of Norbury, Surrey, and a long list of the nobility, including the Duchess 01 Buccleuch, the children of Lord Melbourne, and Lord Abercorn. The names of the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York and Clarence are also there, and the Royal Academy Catalogue of 1789 shows that he had at that time, though by what channel is not known, obtained court patronage. In this year he exhibited a portrait of the Duke of York, in the next portraits of the queen and the Princess Amelia. A portrait of 'An Actress' (exhibited 1790) was probably that of Miss Farren, afterwards Countess of Derby, whom he painted in a fur-lined white satin winter cloak (called a ' John ' cloak) and muff, with naked arms, an inconsistency which gave him his first taste of hostile criticism. But the picture caught much of the fascination of the popular actress, and brought him into notice with the public.

He now moved his studio from Jermyn Street to 24 Old Bond Street, and in 1791 his portraits were varied by 'Homer reciting the Iliad.' a commission from Payne Knight, and in 1792 a portrait of George III marked his progress in royal favour. The presence in the same exhibition of a portrait by Hoppner of the Prince of Wales showed the rival positions which the two artists were henceforth to occupy till the death of Hoppner in 1810 [see Hoppner, John].

Lawrence so pleased George in that he endeavoured to procure his election as an associate (an extra or supplemental associate) in 1790, when the artist was only twenty-one years old, or three years under the age required by a rule which had been sanctioned by the king himself. Notwithstanding the support of Reynolds and West the Academy elected Francis Wheatley instead, an act of independence which gave Peter Pindar (Dr. John Wolcot [q. v.]) occasion for his 'Rights of Kings, a Collection of mock-heroic Odes.' in one of which he recommends the academicians to go with halters round their necks and implore pardon from 'much-offended Majesty.' saying :

Forgive, dread Sir, the crying sin,
And Mister Lawrence shall come in.

The Academy practically followed the doctor's advice, for Lawrence was elected on 10 Nov. 1791 a supplemental associate — an irregular honour which no artist has since