Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the Hon. Anne Talbot (née Bouverie) (1729-1813) c.1788-9

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA and Studio (1769-1830)

Portrait of the Hon. Anne Talbot (née Bouverie) (1729-1813), Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA and Studio
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 ins. (76 x 63.5cm.)
Sotheby’s, London, 21st December 1977, lot 83; English Private Collection.
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This portrait is a rare example of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s earliest work in oil. It can be dated to around 1788-9, and is closely comparable in technique to the first portrait he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1789 (when he was just nineteen years old) of Viscountess Cremorne [Tate Britain]. Here, the bravura application of paint by an essentially self-taught genius is fully evident, especially in the black dress and red drapery, and it is easy to see how Lawrence was able to secure, later in 1789, sittings with Queen Charlotte, for a full-length portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790. He was then justly able to boast to his family that, ‘excepting Sir Joshua, for the painting of a head, I would risk my reputation with any painter in London’. By that time, Thomas Gainsborough had died, and it was soon apparent that Lawrence would indeed be Reynolds’ successor as England’s pre-eminent portraitist.

Lawrence had been a prodigious portraitist from the age of just eight, when he began to draw his first portraits in pencil. His father, a mildly reprobate innkeeper also called Thomas, exploited his son’s self-taught talent for capturing likenesses, and much of Lawrence’s childhood was spent producing small head and shoulder portraits. Little is known about this aspect of the Young Lawrence’s work, but he was clearly talented enough to justify a substantial clientele. Guests at his father’s inn near Bath could have their portrait done by a celebrated local prodigy, hailed as a Mozart of art, and early sitters included the young William Pitt [Private Collection, formerly with Philip Mould Ltd]. Following his father’s bankruptcy in 1780, the family moved to Bath, and relied almost entirely on the portrait commissions of Thomas junior.

It was amongst the large network of Bath’s wealthy connoisseurs that Lawrence first came into contact with the Old Masters, primarily through drawings and prints. We know, for example, that he made copies in pastel of Old Masters, such as Raphael’s Transfiguration (Sotheby’s, London, 12th March 1987) and Carracci’s Mars (Sotheby’s, London, 25th February 1998). Most of Lawrence’s early pastel portraits pre-Bath are simple profile likenesses – but by the mid 1780s he was able to attempt more challenging compositions in what was known as ‘the grand manner’. It seems astonishing to think that he progressed to painting accomplished portraits in oil such as the present portrait by the end of the decade. The sitter here can be identified as the Hon. Anne Bouverie (1729-1813), daughter of Jacob Bouverie, 1st Viscount Folkestone. She married in 1761 the Hon. Rev. George Talbot, the 3rd son of Charles, 1st Baron Talbot. Anne Bouverie had one son, the Very. Rev. Charles Talbot, Dean of Salisbury Cathedral.
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