Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Robert Dundas, 1st Bt., of Beechwood (1761-1835) 

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA and Studio (1769-1830)

Portrait of Sir Robert Dundas, 1st Bt., of Beechwood (1761-1835), Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA and Studio
Oil on canvas
19th Century
30” x 25” (76.2 x 63.5cm)
Sir Thomas Lawrence sale, (according to the Hutchinson sale catalogue of 1861). Matthew Hutchinson, Blackheath; Christie's, London, 22 February 1861, lot 122, under 'Portraits by Sir T. Lawrence, purchased at his sale', 1 gn. to Wattlins (?). Colonel Alexander Ridgeway, Sheplegh Court, Devon; Christie's, London, 14 January 1886, lot 108, as 'Sir T. Lawrence' (2 gns. to Parson). Andrew K. Hichens, London, 1904. The Woman's National Republican Club, New York; Sotheby's, New York, 30 May 1979, lot 225. Richard C. Edgeworth, Chicago, from whom purchased by the present owner, January 2001
W. Armstrong, Lawrence, London, 1913, p. 128. K. Garlick, 'A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings, and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence', The Walpole Society, XXXIX, 1964, p. 71. K. Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Oxford, 1989, p. 181, no. 259
London, Royal Academy, National Portrait Exhibition, 1904, no. 102.
To view works by Sir Thomas Lawrence for sale please go to www.philipmould.com.

This unfinished portrait of Sir Robert Dundas, a leading figure of the Scottish judicial system, is by Sir Thomas Lawrence, one of the greatest portrait painters British art. Lawrence became a member of the Royal Academy at twenty-five, the youngest possible age, and went on to dominate the Regency era with his brilliant likenesses and virtuoso handling of paint. Like many great masters, Lawrence found his trade early on in life at the age of only ten. His talents brought him wide acclaim and he was soon painting public figures such as William Pitt, whose profile he drew in the early 1780’s. These early works were mainly pastels and show an incredible talent for an artist with no formal training. After moving to London in 1787 it was not long before Lawrence found the public recognition he deserved, receiving his first Royal patronage in 1789 after being asked to paint Queen Charlotte (Nation Gallery, London) and Princess Amelia (Royal Collection). Lawrence’s mastery at capturing movement and vitality was confirmed by Reynolds, then President of the Royal Academy, who declared “In you, sir, the world will expect to see accomplished what I have failed to achieve.” By the time of Lawrence’s death nearly every public figure had been painted by him and an adequate testament to his accomplishment can be found in his final resting place at St Pauls Cathedral where he was buried after a grand procession on 21st January 1830.

By the turn of the century, however, it is possible to notice in his output the increasing stress felt by Lawrence, owed largely to his ever increasing debts due to expensive materials and generosity to family and struggling fellow artists. As a result many commissions were delayed and often left unfinished, such as the present work. The jacket has only been very loosely blocked in, and above the sitter’s hair we can still see an area of bare canvas between the head and the base colour of the background. Lawrence was known to work quickly – hence his use of canvas without a ground layer – and the portrait of Dundas as seen today may be the result of only a single sitting. The picture must have been abandoned for some reason, for according to a sale catalogue of 1861 it was bought from Lawrence’s posthumous, which was largely made up of abandoned and unfinished portraits. When Lawrence died in 1830 there were around one hundred and fifty unfinished paintings in his studio, the majority of which had been started some twenty to thirty years earlier. Lawrence was not renowned for his business acumen and was known to aggravate clients by beginning commissions which were never completed.

Sir Robert Dundas 1st Bt., of Beechwood was an eminent figure in the Scottish Court of Session and attained one of the highest sinecure offices in Scottish politics. Descended from the Dundases of Arniston, the common ancestor of whom was knighted by Charles I and appointed to the bench by Charles II, Dundas began his career as Deputy Keeper of the Sasines, maintaining and preserving the important register of deeds. He moved on to his position as Principal Clerk of Session and Deputy Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1820 . As his wealth and influence grew, Dundas purchased the estate of Dunira in Perthshire from Lord Melville (then Lord Privy Seal), and after the death of his uncle General Sir David Dundas G.C.B, succeeded to the estate of Beechwood and in 1821 was made 1st Baronet. He was also one of the original members of the Old Royal Edinburgh Volunteers, becoming a lieutenant in 1794. The present portrait dates to around 1805-10, and shows Dundas as a confident middle-aged man.
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