J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

The Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 online

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of poems, a romance, and sundry essays and short pieces.
His Life and Letters, by J. B. Flagg, was published in a large
volume, with portraits and illustrations, in 1893.


William Bromley was born at Carisbrooke, in the Isle of
Wight, in 1769, and was early apprenticed to an engraver
named Wooding. His skill soon attracted the notice of many
eminent artists, several of whose works he engraved e.g. %
Lawrence's portraits of the Duke of Wellington and of the
young Napoleon ; and Stothard's designs for the History of
England. He also executed a plate after Rubens' picture,
" The Woman taken in Adultery." He was elected an
Associate-Engraver in 1819, and later in life he did some
useful work for the Trustees of the British Museum,
engraving " The Elgin Marbles " from drawings made by
Henry Corbould. He died in 1842.



THOUGH the son of an innkeeper at Bristol, extraordinary
natural endowments, extreme precocity, and untiring assiduity
marked Sir Thomas Lawrence from his very childhood as one
destined to rise to great eminence in his profession ; while at
the same time the versatility of his accomplishments, his self-
possession, his personal appearance, and even many circumstances
of his early environment, all seemed to have helped to fit him
for the important position which he was to hold as President of
the Royal Academy.

On his mother's side, at least, Lawrence came of a good
family ; she was a Miss Lucy Read, daughter of the Rev. W.
Read, vicar of Tenbury, and through her mother connected
with the Powis family. Thomas Lawrence, senior, had been an
excise officer, but was, at the time of Sir Thomas' birth in 1769,
landlord of " The White Lion " in Broad Street, Bristol. In
1772 he removed to "The Black Bear," a very important and
much-frequented hotel, at Devizes, on the old Bath road. From
all accounts he was rather a pompous and officious personage,
dressed in velvet and laced ruffles, and was at all times ready
to give the distinguished travellers who stayed at his hotel the
benefit of his company and conversation. In fact, very much
the style of host that Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings mistook Mr


Hardcastle for. He never tired of showing off the wonderful
accomplishments of his precocious son ; and it was thus that
Master Tommy became, even before he was seven years old,
perfectly familiar with the appearance, manners, and conversation
of that aristocracy amongst which, in the future, he was destined
to move and take his place. He was a handsome child, with
thoughtful eyes and rich dark chestnut curls which hung forward
and enveloped his pretty face when engaged in making his
drawings. Of his extreme precocity we have many evidences ;
perhaps the most reliable, and certainly the most quaint and
matter of fact is contained in the following extract from a
letter of the Hon. Davies Barrington. Writing to his friend
Gilbert White, he thus descants on the boy's attainments,
very much as though describing some object or curiosity of
natural history : " As I have mentioned so many other proofs
of early genius in children, I here cannot pass unnoticed a
Master Lawrence, son of an innkeeper at Devizes, in Wilt-
shire. This boy is now nearly ten years and a half old ; but
at the age of nine, without the most distant instruction from
anyone, he was capable of copying historical pictures in a
masterly style, and also succeeded amazingly in compositions
of his own, particularly that of 'Peter denying Christ.' In
about seven minutes he scarcely ever failed of drawing a
strong likeness of any person present, which had generally
much freedom and grace, if the subject permitted. He is
also an excellent reader of blank verse, and will immediately
convince any one that he both understands and feels the strik-
ing passages of Milton and Shakespeare."

Master Lawrence, of " The Black Bear," was as much famed
for his pretty recitals from Milton and Shakespeare as for his
little crayon portraits. We are told that Garrick, whilst staying
at the hotel on his way to Bath, delighted much in the juvenile
performer. The proud father informs Mr Garrick that " Tommy
has learnt one or two speeches since you were here last," and
Mr and Mrs Garrick retire, after their dinner, to the summer-

si/" J/itwifiA Jaw retire, : / M!._/7 .A/ //>// Jr//.

/\: !**: ':*." " I *" . /


house in order to hear Master Tommy recite something out of
what his father called Milton's " Pandemonium."

Of ordinary education young Lawrence had little or nothing,
for he was taken from the only school he ever went to when he
was but eight years old. He was by no means, however, a
mere home-bred milk-sop, for besides being a good billiard
player, a good shot, and a clever actor, he was very athletic and
particularly fond of boxing.

In 1779 the family left Devizes and removed first to Oxford
and subsequently to Bath, where the future president, besides
receiving lessons in his art from William Hoare, R.A., had
frequent opportunities of studying fine examples of the Old
Masters in the collections of different noblemen in the neigh-
bourhood. It was not long before he was earning a consider-
able competency by making crayon portraits of the fashionable
frequenters of that famous city. His method was to paint for
half an hour from his sitter, and then to work up the portrait
without nature for another half-hour. It probably was from
this rather dangerous method of procedure in early life that
he contracted a habit of flattering ; which, though leading no
doubt to an enormous amount of patronage, yet in the eyes of
an expert connoisseur detracted somewhat from the merits of
his portraits. Lawrence would execute three or four such crayon
portraits in a week, receiving as much as three guineas a piece
for them. At Bath, Lawrence had for sitters many distinguished
people. There, too, he first saw Mrs Siddons ; she appeared at
the Bath Theatre, and young Lawrence from recollection made
a pencil drawing of her as " Aspasia," in The Grecian Daughter,
in the act of stabbing the tyrant, which was engraved and sold
for five shillings a copy. Lawrence must have felt pretty well
assured of his power even at this period of his life, for in a
letter to his mother, in September 1786, he writes : " Excepting
Sir Joshua, for the painting of a head, I would risk my reputa-
tion with any painter in London."

In 1787 Lawrence went to London and became a student



at the Royal Academy. On his introduction, amongst several
other young artists with their productions, to Sir Joshua Reynolds,
he was singled out for notice : " Stop, young man ; I must have
some talk with you. Well, I suppose now, you think this is very
fine, and this colouring very natural, hey ! hey ! " And then,
after a bit : " It is clear you have been looking at the Old
Masters ; but my advice to you is to study nature ; apply your
talents to nature." It is easy to see from this that the wise old
President felt in the young man's work that tendency to man-
nerism which was ever his besetting sin, and advised the severe
study of nature as a wholesome corrective.

Lawrence's success as a portrait painter, after he came to
London, proved quite a record for rapidity. To his fellow-
students he seemed, with his handsome features and curling
locks of brown hair, as a young Raphael suddenly dropped
amongst them. The fashionable people in town vied with one
another in giving him commissions. The king and queen
themselves took the greatest interest in his works, and even
urged the members of the Academy to elect the young man an
Associate when he was only twenty-one years old. Such a
proceeding, however, though favoured by Reynolds and West,
would have been contrary to the then laws of the Institution,
which did not allow of any one being elected under twenty-four
years of age, and was successfully resisted. But when the
attempt was renewed in the following year, the opposition gave
way, and on loth November 1791, Lawrence was elected an
Associate, the first of five chosen at the same time, of whom the
only other of note was Stothard. His election to full member-
ship followed on loth February 1794, his two companions on
this occasion being Stothard and Hoppner. Thus, before he
was twenty-five he became an Academician, an instance of the
early attainment of the honour which has had no parallel.

On the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1792, Lawrence had
been elected painter to the Dilettanti Society, and at the same
time the king appointed him to succeed the late President as


Principal Painter in Ordinary. During the presidency of West,
Lawrence executed most of his finest works, and in the exhibi-
tions at Somerset House, his portraits were looked for from year
to year with the greatest interest.

In the early years of the nineteenth century a great change
came over the fashions in costume and head-dress ; silk brocades,
full skirts, elaborate muslin caps and fichus, frizzed, powdered,
and puffed-out hair, gave way to short waists, dainty, close-
fitting, pseudo-classic gowns, and hair worn in plain Grecian
bands, its natural gloss increased by pomatum, whilst satin and
velvet superseded silk and muslin. These changes were
eminently congenial to the art of Lawrence. No painter
equalled him in the skilful dexterity with which he rendered the
glossy lights on dark hair, the shimmer of satin, or the richness
of velvet. His knowledge of drawing stood him in good stead
in rendering the increased evidence of the figure which the
closely-fitting garments favoured. The prevailing taste for that
class of personal beauty, of which Mrs Siddons was so con-
spicuous a type, exactly coincided with Lawrence's own feelings ;
in short, never was a painter more fortunate as regards the
tastes and fashions of the period in which he lived.

Untrammelled by the cares of wife or family, the young
artist worked with surprising and indefatigable industry. The
times were stirring ones ; portraits of military and naval heroes
fell to his lot by scores. In 1814, he received a commission
from the Prince Regent to paint the portraits of the sovereigns
and the famous warriors and statesmen who had been the
means of restoring the peace of Europe. The honour of knight-
hood was conferred upon him in the following year, at the
instigation, it is believed, of the Emperor of Russia, one of his
illustrious sitters. In 1818 he proceeded to the Congress of Aix-
la-Chapelle, and thence to Vienna, painting in both places the
portraits of the allied sovereigns and their most distinguished
ministers and generals, and in May 1819, to Rome, where he
painted his well-known portraits of Pius VII. and of Cardinal


Gonsalvo. Of these historic portraits the greater part are
now in the Waterloo Gallery at Windsor Castle. From his
journeyings Lawrence returned laden with honours and gifts,
having been elected a member of the Academy of St Luke,
and of the Academies of Florence, Venice, America, Denmark,
and Austria, as well as receiving the Austrian Legion of

There could possibly be no other candidate for the Presi-
dential chair, rendered vacant by the death of West in 1820, who
would have had the least chance of opposing Lawrence in the
election for that high office ; and that he was unanimously elected
on the 2Oth of March, the day after the funeral of the venerable
West, filled no one with surprise, unless it may have been himself,
for he was on his journey home at the time of West's death,
and only arrived in London the very day of his election.

Towards the end of 1829 Lawrence's health became impaired,
he seemed wearied and pale, as though from overwork ; there
were no symptoms, however, of any actual disease, and his
doctors, being in doubt as to his case, decided to play what in
those days was the fashionable " trump card " of blood-letting.
Under this treatment he rapidly became worse, and finally sank
exhausted on the ?th of January 1830. A post-mortem resulted
in the discovery that, though there was some slight ossification
of the heart, the real cause of his death was due to loss of
blood by leeches and lancet.

Lawrence seems to have had some premonition of his
coming end, for at the Artists' Fund Dinner in 1829, in replying
to the toast of his health, he said : " I am now advanced in life,
and the time of decay is coming ; but come when it will, I hope
to have the good sense not to prolong the contest for fame with
younger, and perhaps abler men. No self-love shall prevent me
from retiring, and that cheerfully, to privacy ; and I consider I
shall do but an act of justice to others as well as mercy to

He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral on the 2Oth of


January, the pall-bearers at his funeral being the Earls of
Aberdeen, Gower, and Clanwilliam, Lord Dover, Sir Robert
Peel, Sir George Murray, Mr John Wilson Croker, and Mr
Hart Davis. The exhibition of the British Institution in the
same year consisted chiefly of Lawrence's works, ninety-one of
his best pictures being collected.

A complete list of Lawrence's portraits would be a very long
one. He exhibited 311 at the Academy, 64 more than Sir
Joshua. Amongst the best of his productions may be men-
tioned the very fine full-length portrait of his predecessor,
Benjamin West, in the National Gallery; for lifelike truthful-
ness, dignity of expression, and exquisite painting, than this
nothing could be finer. Another very beautiful work is the
portrait group of the Countess Gower (afterwards Duchess
of Sutherland) and her daughter Elizabeth. With children
Lawrence was generally very successful, his best picture of this
kind being probably "The Children of Charles B. Calmady,"
no longer, unfortunately, in this country, of which he himself
said that it was " one of the few I should wish hereafter to be
known by." The one, however, by which he is perhaps best
known is the portrait of " Master Lambton," belonging to the
Earl of Durham ; though rather artificial in sentiment, it is
undoubtedly a wonderfully fine work. Many other portraits
might be mentioned, some of which were seen at the Winter
Exhibition of the Royal Academy in 1904, which are excellent
specimens of Lawrence's skill in the portrayal of feminine
charm and beauty and youthful grace. His fancy subject
pictures, which were neither numerous nor important, are well
represented by his diploma work "The Gipsy Girl." The
Royal Academy has a very fine portrait of him by himself.
It also possesses his "Sitter's Chair," bequeathed to it by
the Rev. J. R. Bloxam, D.D., whose father married Lawrence's
sister Anne.

In painting a face Lawrence delighted in what are termed
" high lights " ; these sparkling accentuations of the eyes, lips, or


nose, he rendered with surprising dexterity and accuracy. He
revelled in the deep, rich brown shadows which Reynolds first
introduced to the art of portraiture in England, though at times
he was apt to exaggerate their warmth by too free an introduc-
tion of red, He is seen at his worst when he had to portray any
extremely celebrated or exalted personages, on which occasions
he seems to have felt bound to give his work the full benefit of
his somewhat theatrical ideas of poetry and sentiment. For
examples of this sort we may mention his portrait of "The
Duke of Wellington," wrapt in his marshal's cloak, hugging his
telescope, bareheaded, alone, in a thunderstorm ; or that of
"John Kemble as Hamlet" ; or the still worse likeness of " His
Satanic Majesty," with outstretched arms and legs, calling up
his infernal hosts, which Pasquin severely satirised, while
Fuseli complained that " Lawrence had stolen his devil from

It was to Lawrence that an increase in the width of frames,
at the annual exhibitions, was due ; a rather broad, richly decor-
ated style of frame still bears his name. Hitherto frames had
been narrow and unpretentious, though pretty and decorative in
design ; the example of the President, it is needless to say, soon
spread, a matter deeply to be deplored.

As has been already stated, Lawrence was unanimously
elected President in succession to West. It was a choice that
everybody approved of; even the grumbling fault-finder Fuseli
saying, "If they must have a face painter to reign over them
let them take Lawrence." His whole career had marked him
out for the post. Shee, who subsequently attained the same
dignity, says in a letter that he voted for Lawrence, and that he
11 never gave a vote with a more sincere conviction of its justice
and propriety, both as to the Academy and the Art." The
choice was at once approved by George IV., who had succeeded
to the throne on the death of his father in the early part of the
same year, and who continued to take the same interest in the


Academy he had already shown when Prince Regent. In proof
of this, and of 'the favour with which he regarded the election of
Lawrence, he presented the Academy with a very massive gold
medal and chain to be worn by its Presidents. The medal bears
the inscription, " From His Majesty George the Fourth to the
President of the Royal Academy."

The good fortune of Lawrence seems to have continued
during his Presidency, for the ten years of his office were years
of peace and quiet in academic matters, a result which may, no
doubt, in some degree, be set down to his skilful tact and
polished manners. There were no storms within and no assaults
from without. But as regards the general interests of Art in this
country the period was an important one, for it was marked by
what may be called the first Government recognition of the
necessity of encouraging the fine arts. West had often urged
the desirability of forming a national collection of pictures, and
had applied in turn, without avail, to Pitt, Fox, and Percival for
support. Lawrence followed with even more insistence in the
same strain, and with more success, for in 1824 the Earl of
Liverpool, who was then Prime Minister, obtained the assent of
Parliament to the purchase, for 57,000, of the Angerstein
collection of thirty-eight pictures ; and so was founded the
National Gallery.

Other artistic matters of importance in which Lawrence took
great interest, were the founding, in 1823, of the Royal Hiber-
nian Academy, to the first exhibition of which, in 1826, he sent
some of his pictures, and the effort to establish in the same year
the Royal Scottish Academy, an effort, however, which was not
crowned with success until 1838. He was also a great patron
and supporter of the two great charitable societies for the relief
of distressed artists and their families, the Artists' Benevolent
Fund, founded in 1810, and to which a Royal charter was
granted in 1827, and the Artists' General Benevolent Institution,
first started in 1814, but which was not incorporated till 1842.
Lawrence himself was ever ready to give pecuniary assistance


to struggling artists ; indeed, his benevolence was large and
unstinted, and was one of the causes which led to the embar-
rassment in money matters from which he constantly suffered.
Another cause was his taste for collecting drawings and works
by Old Masters, on which he is estimated to have spent ,60,000.
The refusal of this collection by the Government after his death
was followed by an attempt to get up a subscription to purchase
it for the nation, towards which the Academy voted ^1000, and
Sir John Soane a like sum ; but it failed, and the works were
sold by auction. A collection of architectural casts made by
Lawrence was purchased by the Academy for 250, and pre-
sented to the British Museum for the use of architectural
students, but after keeping them for some years the Trustees
returned them to the Academy, where they now are on the
walls of the architectural school.

No changes of any importance occurred in the Academy
during Lawrence's Presidency. The . exhibitions remained at
much the same level, both as regards the number of works
exhibited and the receipts. The schools attracted the average
number of students. The practice of sending travelling students
abroad, discontinued since 1795, owing to the war, had been
resumed in 1818, when Lewis Vulliamy, an architect, was
awarded this prize, and in 1821 a similar distinction was
conferred on Joseph Severn, who had gained the Painting
Gold Medal in 1819.

An interesting incident in the Presidency of Lawrence was
the appointment of Sir Walter Scott as Honorary Antiquary.
On his first appearance in that capacity at the Annual Dinner
in 1828, Lawrence proposed his health, quoting as he did so the
lines :

" It he had been forgotten
It had been as a gap in our great feast
And all things unbecoming."

The mention of the Annual Dinner and one of the


Academy's Honorary Officers furnishes the occasion for
giving some account of both the one and the other.

It was a happy thought on the part of Reynolds and the
early founders of the Academy to associate with themselves
some of the great literary men of the day. All the first
four appointments were made direct by George III.: Joseph
Barretti, Secretary for Foreign Correspondence in 1769; and
in the following year, Samuel Johnson, Professor of Ancient
Literature ; Oliver Goldsmith, Professor of Ancient History ;
and Richard Dalton, Antiquary. The chaplaincy was not
instituted till 1784, when the Rev. William Peters, R.A.,
who had acted as Chaplain at the Annual Dinner, was
appointed to the office. Many distinguished men, as will be
seen from a reference to the lists in Appendix No. IV., have
since honoured the Academy by filling these posts. At one
time, after the first appointments, they appear to have been
elective, though there seems to have been no fixed rule, but
for many years they have been made on the nomination of
the President, subject to the approval of the Council and the
General Assembly, and the sanction of the sovereign.

The opening of the first exhibition on 26th April 1769, was
commemorated by a dinner given at the St Alban's Tavern, at
which Reynolds presided, and several lovers and patrons of Art
were present. This, however, appears to have been a private
affair. The first official Dinner was held at the new rooms at
Somerset House on St George's Day, 23rd April 1771, the day
preceding the opening of the exhibition. The invitations were
limited to 25, but this number soon increased; and in 1809, ' m
consequence of representations that were made that the original
intention, which was " to bring together at the opening of the
exhibition the highest orders of Society and the most distin-
guished characters of the age," had been departed from, and
that " by degrees the purity of selection had given way to the
influence of private friendships and the importunity of acquaint-
ances," the rooms in consequence being " most inconveniently


crowded, and the dignity of the Feast impaired," the number
of invitations was limited to 120, exclusive of the members of
the Academy. It was also further enacted that they should
only be extended to "persons in elevated situations, of high
rank, distinguished talent, or known patrons of the arts," and
that each person proposed should be balloted for by the
members of the Council present, two black balls to exclude.
These regulations still exist, except that the number of guests
now reaches 200. The roll of invited guests has been kept
from the beginning, and constitutes a very interesting record.
Of the speeches there is no regular mention till 1852, as up to
that time the gathering had been considered a private one, but
the presence of the Prince Consort in 1851, and the speeches
then made, especially that of the prince, attracted much atten-
tion, and the custom was begun, which has been continued to
the present day, of inviting the Times newspaper as representa-
tive of the press.



DURING the ten years' Presidency of Sir Thomas Lawrence
eleven Academicians were elected, and five Associates who
never reached the higher rank. Of the Academicians eight

Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 26 of 35)