Painting and History Part III: George IV and Lawrence

Doreen  & Geoffrey Agnew relate the tale of Lawrence's Waterloo Collection, his tour of Europe, and portraits of contemporary political heavyweights

In the year 1813 Joseph Farington records in his diary that Thomas Lawrence ‘would not allow that there is proper encouragement for living artists and spoke of Buonaparte as having done more than has been done in this country’. But a year later the fall of that very Buonaparte was to provide Thomas Lawrence with his opportunity. In the words of the Catalogue to the Exhibition of the King’s Pictures at Burlington House in 1946-47, ‘an enthusiastic epistle from an unbalanced poetess, Lady Anne Barnard, first suggested bringing this event’, Napoleon’s defeat,

‘into the sphere of painting with Lawrence as its executant, and the spark kindled the Prince Regent, who had not hitherto been a patron of Lawrence. The idea grew into what was later called “The Waterloo Chamber”, in which all the Sovereigns and Statesmen who had contributed to Napoleon’s fall were assembled in portraiture. The task and the artist were wonderfully fitted for each other, and the Prince Regent gave the inspiration for a portrait gallery which is perhaps unequalled in historical significance’.

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