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Thomas Lawrence Retrospective Showcases Dazzling Portraits of High Society in Regency London
Thomas Lawrence, Charles William (Vane-)Stewart, Later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, 1812, oil on canvas, National Portrait Gallery, London, Purchased with help from the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1992, © National Portrait Gallery, London.
NEW HAVEN, CT.- The Yale Center for British Art is the only North American venue for a landmark retrospective of the great Regency painter, Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830). On view from February 24, 2011 through –June 5, 2011, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance showcases outstanding works by the most important British portrait painter of his generation. It also explores the development of Lawrence's career as one of the most celebrated and influential artists in Europe in the early nineteenth century. Organized jointly with the National Portrait Gallery, London, the exhibition features more than fifty stunning portraits from collections around the world, including The Royal Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Palace of Versailles, and The Art Institute of Chicago, as well as works from a number of private collections, many of which have never been seen by the public.

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance is the first substantial examination of the artist in the United States since 1993 and the first Lawrence exhibition in the United Kingdom since 1979. It includes the artist’s greatest paintings and drawings alongside lesser-known works in order to provide a fresh understanding of Lawrence and his career. The show also contrasts his approach to sitters according to age and gender; juxtapose his public identity with the private world of the artist’s studio; explore Lawrence’s technical innovations as a draftsman and painter; and place him within the broader contexts of the aesthetic debates, networks of patronage, and international politics of his day. Particular attention is paid to meaningful groupings that Lawrence created by exhibiting works together at the Royal Academy, a feature that has yet to receive attention. The exhibition brings visitors “behind the scenes” to explore Lawrence’s working methods and the importance of his studio as a workspace, asocial space in London, and a space for the display of Lawrence’s own works and his stellar collection of Old Master drawings.

Spanning the scope of the artist’s career, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance closely examines the Regency period, a time defined by the political and cultural role played by George IV (1762–1830), who was Prince of Wales between 1789 and 1811, and then, successively, Prince Regent (during his father’s illness between 1811 and 1820), and crowned king after his father’s death. The exhibition begins with a restaging of Lawrence’s first definitive Royal Academy success in 1790, where he showed Elizabeth Farren (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Queen Charlotte (National Gallery of Art, London). A display of works from Lawrence’s controversial exhibitions from the 1790s will follow, including Arthur Atherley (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), which challenged traditional notions of masculinity. The next section examines the period from 1805 to 1815, during which the artist experienced financial and emotional turmoil and created his most innovative and experimental group portraits and “half history” portraits. Lawrence was sent abroad by the Prince Regent to paint the victors of Waterloo between 1818 and 1820, and a section of the exhibition features portraits such as Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (private collection) and Charles William
(Vane-)Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (National Portrait Gallery, London), as well as the innovative chalk-on-canvas drawings he made during his travels.

Another display includes some of his best works on paper, ranging from friendship portraits and commissioned portrait drawings to sketches of historical events, such as the treason trial of John Thelwall (National Portrait Gallery, London). Sparked by a drawing of his studio in 1824 (Yale Center for British Art), the last section of the exhibition explores new paradigms of masculinity and femininity in Lawrence’s later work and also examine the importance of his portraits of children. The section proves definitively that Lawrence continued to challenge himself as an artist even in the last decade of his career. This display also highlights an important portrait of the young Julia Peel (private collection), which is shown exclusively in New Haven. Yale Center for British Art Director, Amy Meyers, asserts, “A critic once wrote of Lawrence’s work that ‘The magic of his art is thrown around the representations of the most ordinary things.’ We are thrilled to be able to share this magic with visitors drawn to the show by the beauty of Lawrence’s paintings, by interest in the period of the Napoleonic wars, and by the changing representations of gender roles in Lawrence’s work.”

Beginning as a child prodigy working in pastels, Thomas Lawrence succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as Britain’s greatest portrait painter. While lacking in formal and artistic education, he rose to the highest ranks of his profession and was appointed President of the Royal Academy in 1820. With the temperament and fl air to capture the glamour of the age, Lawrence created the image of Regency high society with dazzling brushwork and innovative use of color. He became not only the most popular chronicler of fashionable London society, but also one of the most lauded (and imitated) portraitists in Europe. Under his brush, portraits emerged that were both startlingly modern, yet grounded in historical forms. They owed their popularity to the fact that Lawrence represented his sitter’s idealized social persona, and also attempted to capture in paint a visual representation of their inner life and character.



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