Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Mrs Ramsay 

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (1769-1830)

Portrait of Mrs Ramsay, Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA
Pastel on paper
19th Century
9½ x 7¼ inches, 24.2 x 18.5 cm
James Pemell (d.1914)

Thomas Lawrence was a prodigious portraitist from the age of just eight, when he began to draw his first profile portraits in pencil. His father, a mildly reprobate innkeeper also called Thomas, exploited his son’s self-taught talent for capturing likenesses to the full, and Lawrence’s entire childhood was spent producing small head and shoulder portraits. At first, Lawrence’s skill was used as an attraction at his father’s inn, The Black Bear in Devizes. But following his father’s bankruptcy in 1780, the family moved to Bath, and relied solely on portrait commissions to Thomas junior. Small pastel portraits such as the present example formed the basis of Lawrence’s works until he began to experiment in oil.

That this portrait of Mrs Ramsay is a profile portrait, and thus slightly easier for the young Lawrence, perhaps indicates that it is one of his earlier childhood portraits. The background and dress are finished with characteristic vigour, which in a more painterly form came to dominate all his later works. The rendering of the face, however, is sharp and bold. The signal of genius can be seen in Mrs Ramsay’s eye, which reveals the distinct sparkle present in all Lawrence portraits. Even his earliest works such as Lady Kenyon [1779, Private Collection] reveal a similar emphasis on animating the sitter’s features through the expressiveness of the eye. This too was an essential element of Lawrence’s later success. As Fuseli once exclaimed, “By God, he paints eyes better than Titian!”
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.