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قراءة كتاب Lawrence

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‏اللغة: English


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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

report issued by the commissioners, but he made a difficult position worse by going out of the way publicly to declare his own and the Princess’s innocence. For some time after the scandal was broached, the lady visitors to the studio in Russell Square were few and far between, and Lawrence was never as happy with men as with women. The genius of his brush was essentially feminine.

In the years wherein the sun of court favour was withheld, and fashionable women were less constant in their attention, he was nevertheless extremely busy, and was able to raise his prices in 1802, 1806, 1808, and 1810, the last date being the year of Hoppner’s death. His other rivals included Beecher and Owen. For one who had comparatively few expenses, a large income, and neither parents, wife, nor children to support, the general position should have been very satisfactory, but nothing seemed able to keep Lawrence in easy financial circumstances. Financial difficulties followed him as they had followed his father before him; neither his great industry nor his raised prices availed to keep him from all manner of small troubles.

(In the Wallace Collection)

This portrait of an unknown sitter is as happily posed as it is unhappily dressed. One notices two points of interest—the fine painting of the head and the atmosphere of self-consciousness that is common to so many of the Lawrence portraits.

The early years of the nineteenth century passed without any very stirring events apart from the appointment of the Commission for the “Delicate Investigation.” Lawrence kept his place, earned a great deal of money, spent a great part before he received it, met some of the greatest men of the day—statesmen, soldiers, literati, ecclesiastics, and the rest—and was a frequent visitor to country houses where he took part in private theatricals. Indeed he may be said to have survived the loss of royal favour very creditably. As the years passed, subduing all recollection of the scandal associated with Montague House, Blackheath, his name was brought forward again in Court circles, where he was greatly missed by the women, if not by the men. There was no other painter who could combine the portrait with truth and flattery in such exquisite proportions[Pg 51]
[Pg 52]
that they conveyed an impression of youth and beauty while stating all essential truths. The truth was well summed up by one of Sir Thomas’s biographers who wrote: “Lawrence lavished summer colours upon autumn and on winter, and gave to declining years the vigour of the life of youth.”

It had long been an ambition of the painter to visit Paris, and when in 1814 the entrance of the allied armies into the French capital opened it to travellers, Lawrence was prompt to take advantage of the situation. Now after many years he hoped to see the famous collection in the Louvre, enriched as it had been of late years by the thefts of Marshal Soult and others of Napoleon’s generals with a flair for works of art. But before he could complete his work the painter was summoned back to London. On the intervention of the first Marquis of Londonderry, the Prince Regent had taken the proper and charitable view of the Montague House affair.

Lawrence was commissioned to paint for Windsor Castle a commemoration gallery of those who had restored the Bourbons. The sitters chosen were the Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia, Blücher, and Hetman Platoff. The portraits were painted, and at about the same time, Wellington and Metternich sat to the painter. Lawrence recovered all the ground he had lost, and gained fresh honours in rapid succession. In the year of Waterloo he painted the portrait of the Prince Regent, who knighted him; in 1817 he painted at Claremont the portrait of the Princess Charlotte. To these years his biographers trace the beginning of his relations with Mrs. Wolfe, wife of a diplomat accredited to this country. Cunningham refers to her as the wife of a Danish Consul, Mr. Knapp says she was the wife of the German Ambassador, but the point is not worth investigating. Suffice it she was a clever, attractive woman, separated from her husband, and the artist seems to have established with her intimate but platonic relations. He was devoted to her, but, then, he had a very susceptible heart. The friendship continued until the death of the lady, whom the artist survived only a few months.

In 1818 a further and greater honour than any that had come his way hitherto was conferred upon Sir Thomas. He was sent to Aix-la-Chapelle to paint members of the Congress then sitting there, with instructions to proceed to Vienna and Rome. An allowance of one thousand a year for travelling expenses made the commission still more attractive, and the artist, free at last to travel and to work in the most stimulating surroundings Europe could provide, remained away from England for a year and a half. In his work he distinguished himself. His sitters included Emperor Francis of Austria, Louis XVIII., Charles X., Archduke Charles, Metternich, Techernicheff, Ouvaroff, Hardenberg, Nesselrode, Baron Gentz, Earl Bathurst, Lord Liverpool, the Marquis of Londonderry, the Duke of Cambridge, and Mr. Canning. In Rome the aged Pontiff Pius VII. gave him nine sittings, and he painted the portrait of the great Cardinal Gonsalvi, “the Pitt of Rome.” But it was not only to paint that he went to the Eternal City; he had much to learn, and some of the letters he wrote to London during his stay are remarkable for their sound judgment and insight. The supreme master of art for him was Michael Angelo, following him Raphael, Correggio, Titian, Sir Joshua, and perhaps J. M. W. Turner came in the order named. To the end Lawrence was faithful in his devotion to the art of the first President of the R.A. “I don’t see why British artists wish to travel abroad when we have Sir Joshua in England,” he said in his untravelled days. He was not heard to express this opinion again in the years when he had crossed “the narrow seas.” Eighteen months of foreign travel did much for him; he brought a wider mind and a bigger intelligence home with him; to say nothing of a collection of gifts from European rulers and honours from many academies of art. From the social standpoint it is hard to believe that life could have given more than it gave in 1818-19.

Lawrence was able to visit several Italian cities, and returned to London at the end of his eighteen months’ sojourn in the country, to find that Benjamin West had just died, and that he had been elected to succeed him as President of the Royal Academy. His attitude was dignified. “There are,” he said, “others better qualified to be President; I shall, however, discharge the duties as well and wisely as I can. I shall be true to the Academy and, in my intentions, just and impartial.” In giving his consent to Lawrence’s election, King George IV. presented the new P.R.A. with a gold chain and medal. King George also sat to him,[1] and was heard to say that Lawrence was “a well-bred gentleman.”