Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63), c.1850 

Samuel Laurence (1812-84)

Portrait of William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63), c.1850, Samuel Laurence
Black and white chalks on buff paper
19th Century
21 1/4 x 15 1/2 inches 54 x 39.4 cm
Sir John Pollock Bart
British Council Fine Arts Department, ''Le Livres Anglaise1, Paris
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With his publication of Vanity Fair in 1848, Thackeray established his reputation as a novelist of the stature of Trollop and Dickens. Born at Calcutta, the only child of Richmond Thackeray an Indian collector, he was educated at Charterhouse and later at Trinity College, Cambridge. Immediately afterwards he travelled in Europe and met Goethe at Weimar.

He studied drawing in Paris in the early 1830s and in 1836 became correspondent for the ''Constitutional'' and later for ''The Times'', ''Eraser''s Magazine'' and other journals. In 1840 he published ''The Paris Sketchbook'', in 1841 ''Comic Tales and Sketches'' and ''The History of Samuel Titmarsh and the Great Hoggarty Diamond''. Other publications followed; ''the Irish Sketchbook'' 1843, ''Cornhill to Cairo'' 1846, and the celebrated ''Luck of Barry Lyndon'' 1846, ''Vanity Fair'' 1847, ''Pendennis'' 1848, ''Esmund'' 1852, ''The Newcomes'' 1853, ''The Rose and the Ring'' 1854 and ''The Virginians'' 1857-9. The first collective edition of his works appeared in twenty-two volumes between 1867 - 69.

This is one of the several versions commissioned of Thackeray, by Lawrence, whom he designated his official portrait painter. Thackeray was a close friend of Lawrence for many years, and helped to secure him patrons. They probably met through Edward Fitzgerald in the early 1840s, but only became intimate after George Smith the publisher had commissioned a drawing of Thackeray from Laurence in 1852. In 1853 Thackeray wrote to Bancroft (Thackeray Papers, III, 317): ''I think Lawrence is the best drawer of heads since Van Dyck''. In a humorous letter to Laurence of the same year (Thackeray Papers, III, 89), Thackeray wrote: ''I hereby appoint Samuel Laurence Esquire, my Portrait-painter in Ordinairy, and forbid all Hartists to attempt to paint my Mug save and excepting the said Samuel Lawrence and the undersigned Thackeray.
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