Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Mary Richmond (1796-1879), c.1823 

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA and Studio (1769-1830)

Portrait of Mary Richmond (1796-1879), c.1823, Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA and Studio
Oil and Canvas
19th Century
30 x 25 in., 76.2 x 63.4 cm.
The sitter, thence by descent.
Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London 1954, p.35, 73. K.Garlick, ‘A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence’ The Walpole Society’, Vol. XXXIX, 1983, p.70, 285. Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, (London 1989), p.180, no.256 as ‘Whereabouts Unknown’. Engravings: Lithograph, R.J. Lane.
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There are few artists whose contribution to the history of British art can be measured as clearly as that of Sir Thomas Lawrence. His dynamic virtuosity and refinement constitute the highest ideals of painting during the Regency, creating an unparalleled record of the of contemporary society and fashion

Lawrence was one of the first artists successfully to record the commercial meritocracy, for the most part based in London, and merchants and bankers were a key part of his client base. Mary Richmond married a London merchant named John Abraham Droop (1781-1842) on 21 February 1822 St Andrew Church, Holborn, and at this point her address was stated as John Street, Bedford Row. The present work was therefore most likely commissioned to celebrate their union and shows all the characteristics that made Lawrence such a sort after portrait painter of beau monde – a new form of refinement and glamour achieved by his skills of realism in both the depiction of surface texture in fabrics and skin, as well frieze-frame movement. Mary Richmond is animated and engaged, her attention caught by some unspecified activity outside the picture space to which she is gesturing by the both the twist in her body and the orientation of her arms. The illusion of movement is further enhanced by her shining ringlets caught with characteristic ease by Lawrence’s rich pallet and brilliantly applied highlights.

Little information can be found on the life of Mary or her husband, although records from the House of Lords from 1802 mention the naturalization of a John Abraham Droop, son of Heinrick Droop and Maria Regina Retberg of Bremen, Germany. At his death in 1842 Droop was stated as a merchant, and he must therefore be the same John Abraham Droop who was embroiled in litigation following his failure to pay demurrage on an imported quantity of oats in 1830.[1]

As was often the case with leading society painters, patronage was easy to find, but deadlines much harder to keep, and over one-hundred paintings were left unfinished in Lawrence’s studio when he died in 1830 – including his own self-portrait begun c.1825 [Royal Academy, London]. Such was the fate of the present work which, according the Executor’s List drawn up in 1830, was commissioned and paid for on 4 June 1823 but not delivered until 17 March 1830, after a claim was made by the sitter’s husband. The same list states the portrait as ‘Head finished (1/2 finished)…1/2 length’, which is how we can presume it was delivered to Mr. Droop. Although this is the exact image that Lawrence painted as evinced by the lithograph made by Richard James Lane, it would originally have been surrounded by an expanse of unpainted canvas which, according the inscription on the print, had been finished off posthumously by Samuel lane, a former assistant to Lawrence and an artist of distinctly inferior quality.
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