Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a mother and child (Mrs John Angerstein and son) 1810c.

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (1769-1830)

Portrait of a mother and child (Mrs John Angerstein and son), Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA
Oil on canvas
19th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
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The appreciation of unfinished paintings as an access to the painter's creative process - as opposed say, to the long-institutionalised appreciation of drawings -is a comparatively recent taste. Unfinished pictures by someone as prolific as Lawrence are, therefore, rarer than one might expect, due to his studio and pupils, who might well complete the unfinished portions of the master's works. The survival, therefore, of this fresh composition in exactly the state that it was last touched by Lawrence himself, is little short of miraculous. It is a perfect guide to his technique, in which the heads are first painted in, against a penumbra of a distinctive blue-grey in the child's case, with the dead-colouring already suggesting the bright, porcelain tones of the finished picture. Highly characteristic of Lawrence is the very dark brown used for the mother's hair and for the background. Lawrence was always uncompromising in his use of colour and especially of darks, and form earliest years always employed the deepest blacks and browns, even in pastels.

Lawrence's oeuvre is comparatively lacking in subject pictures, and so the present painting is an important example, since it is as much a subject picture as a portrait. By the conventions of pose, the downwards-looking profile of the mother would be unusual in Regency portraiture, yet there is a sufficient sense of likeness that we do not doubt that the models were known to the painter. It has been suggested, from likeness and from comparable drawings of the subject, that the mother and child are members of the Angerstein family, who were good friends of the artist. Amelia Lock, daughter of William Lock, who was also a friend and patron of Lawrence. Amelia Lock married John Angerstein, son of Julius, in 1799, although the date of this painting is clearly later on grounds of costume. Her fourth child Frederick was born in 1809, and this painting may well represent him, conforming to the probable date of c.1810. A portrait drawing of Mrs John Angerstein nursing a child in a private collectionby family descent is closely comparable in subject matter and date. The painting, therefore, is an example of the freer rein for experimentation that he was allowed in depicting friends and in using them for models. This would also explain why this painting has been left unfinished and unrecorded, since it was not a product of a formal commission, and lay outside the demands of Lawrence's often precarious business.
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