Life and Death of Sir Thomas Lawrence

Bristol has produced a lot of famous people, most of whom are ignored by present inhabitants. One of the most criminal cases of neglect is that of Lawrence, who is one of my favourite artists, and the first to become a superstar artist and antiquarian. This is from Latimer’s Annals:

Sir Thomas Lawrence, President of the Royal Academy, expired in the 7th January, 1830, and his remains were honoured with a stately public funeral a fortnight later in St Paul’s Cathedral. Various inaccurate statements as to the the place of his nativity have appeared in print, but the parochial records show that he was born at No. 6 Redcross Street, Bristol, and was baptised at St Phillip’s Church on the 6th May, 1769. His father, a few months later, became landlord of the White Lion Hotel, Broad Street, whence he removed in 1773 to the bear Hotel, Devizes, and after his failure there, in 1780, to Bath. Whilst almost an infant, the son manifested extraordinary indications of genius, and some drawings executed in his 8th year, which still exist, afford ample evidence to justify the admiration which he excited in cultivated circles. Before he had reached the age of 12, his studio in Bath was the resort of many noble and fashionable persons who then frequented the city, so that he may be said to have become famous before establishing himself in London, which he did at the age of 18. On the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds, in 1792, Lawrence was appointed ot succeed him as portrait-painter in ordinary to ehe king, and thenceforth he was never able to keep abreast of the work which poured in upon him. There was scarcely a single upper-class family in the kingdom which did not solicit his services, and engravings f his most successful portraits had an unexampled sale. When the presidency of the Royal Academy became vacant by the death of Sir B. West, the fashionable favourite was immediately appointed to the distinguished office, and received the customary honour of knighthood. In 1826, when Lord Gifford resigned the recordership of Bristol., the Corporation resolved upon having his portrait and aware of the peculiarity of Lawrence, who with a princely income was always in an inexplicable state of impecuniosity, they remitted 200 guineas with the order. Lord Gifford, however, died soon afterwards and the painter eventually returned the money.

Lawrence received a huge income, so his constand pleas of poverty remain a mystery. The footnote continues:

“I cannot think what keeps him so poor,” said George IV to Croker in 1825; “I have paid him £24,000 and have not got my pictures. The Duke of Wellington is £2,800 in advance to him. All the world is ready to employ him at £1,000 a picture, yet he never has, I am told, a farthing.”

Apparently there were rumours of him being blackmailed or gambling, but he had worked hard all his life but the Oxford Dictionary claims he just wasn’t good at managing his finances. All seems rather strange. Here’s the full listing on him:

http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16189?docPos=3

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