Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A. (Bristol 1769-1830 London)
Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A. (Bristol 1769-1830 London)

Portrait of Emily, Lady Berkeley, half-length, in a white dress with a blue sash and grey shawl

Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A. (Bristol 1769-1830 London)
Portrait of Emily, Lady Berkeley, half-length, in a white dress with a blue sash and grey shawl
oil on canvas
30¼ x 25¼ in. (76.9 x 64.2 cm.)
By inheritance through the sitter's youngest daughter, Louisa Georgina Berkeley, who married Captain Thomas Hardy, to her granddaughter,
Mary Charlotte Hardy, who married in 1833 Sir John Macgregor, 3rd Bt., and by inheritance to their daughter,
Mary Charlotte Macgregor, who married in 1904 John Charles Thynne, grandson of the 2nd Marquess of Bath, and by inheritance through their daughter, Agatha, to the present owner.
D.E. Williams, The Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence, Kt., I, London, 1831, p. 127.
R.S. Gower, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London, 1900, p. 111.
W. Armstrong, Lawrence, London, 1913, p. 114.
K. Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London, 1954, pp. 34-5.
K. Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Oxford, 1989, p. 151, no. 98.
London, Royal Academy, Summer Exhibition, 1791, no. 255.

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Lot Essay

This remarkably subtle portrait of Lady Berkeley is an exceptional example of by Sir Thomas Lawrence's early work. By 1791, when Lawrence exhibited it at the Royal Academy, his precocious artistic ability, demonstrated in the works that he exhibited there the previous year, had already won him a reputation as the natural heir to Sir Joshua Reynolds. His portrait of Lady Berkeley epitomises the qualities of the extraordinary artistic vision that underpinned his meteoric career.

Emily, Lady Berkeley, was the second of the three daughters of Lord George Lennox, the younger son of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, whose father the 1st Duke was the illegitimate son of King Charles II. Her brother Charles was to succeed her uncle as 4th Duke of Richmond in 1806. Her husband Sir George Cranfield Berkeley (1753-1818), who was the younger son of Augustus, 4th Earl of Berkeley, had a distinguished naval and political career. He received his first naval command in September 1778 and was eventually promoted to Admiral in 1810 at the end of a career that was most notable for the distinguished part he played as commander of the Marlborough in the victory of 1 June 1794. He also played a crucial role as Commander-in-Chief on the coast of Portugal between 1808 and 1812, giving naval support to Arthur Wellesley's (later 1st Duke of Wellington) military campaigns against the French on the Iberian peninsula. The Berkeleys lived at Wood End in Sussex, near the Richmond estate of Goodwood, and in Portugal Street in London; Berkeley's sister described their marriage 'as a pattern of domestic happiness scarcely to be equalled'.

Lady Berkeley's elder sister Maria Louisa Lennox and her younger sister Georgina, Lady Apsley, whose husband was to succeed as the 3rd Earl Bathurst in 1794, all sat to Lawrence at the outset of his career, soon after his move to London, at the moment when he had been recognised as the most gifted young portraitist of his generation. The resulting portraits are among the most impressive achievements of the artist's early career. His portrait of Lady Berkeley is thought to have been executed in circa 1790 and was exhibited at the Royal Academy the following year. Her husband also sat, at about the same date, to Lawrence for a half-length portrait, which was last recorded in 1928 (current whereabouts unknown).

Lawrence, had moved to London in 1787, aged 18, where his prodigious artistic ability was soon recognised and his career took off. Until then, Lawrence had worked predominantly as a portraitist in pastel, but from the moment he arrived in London he turned his attention almost exclusively to painting in oil, which he mastered with extraordinary speed. In a letter to his mother of 1788 he displayed full confidence in his abilities in the medium, commenting at this early stage that 'excepting Sir Joshua, for the painting of a head, I would risk my reputation with any painter in London'. Lawrence first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1788, and his rapid success was reflected in the summons he received to paint Queen Charlotte at Windsor Castle in September 1789, an unprecedented commission for a twenty-year-old artist. The Royal Academy exhibition of 1790, in which he exhibited not only his remarkable full-length portrait of Queen Charlotte (London, National Gallery), but also his celebrated full-length portrait of Elizabeth Farren (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), was to seal his reputation. After the death of Reynolds in 1792, no other artist in London could compete with him: Gainsborough had died in 1788, and Romney was on the brink of mental collapse, while Hoppner's portraits lacked the vitality and invention that characterised the younger artist's work. Lawrence was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1791, and on Reynolds's death he was elected to succeed him as Painter to the Dilettanti Society, and also appointed Painter-in-Ordinary to the King. His precocious talent was fully recognised with his election as a full member of the Royal Academy in 1794, at the youngest permitted age of twenty-five.

Lawrence's emergence also represented a new dawn in British portraiture. The nature of his artistic vision was profoundly different to that of Reynolds, and very much the product of what Sir Michael Levey described as his 'own highly charged genius'. This contrast was apparent at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1790, where Lawrence's full-lengths of Queen Charlotte and Elizabeth Farren, which so astonished the London art world, could be compared directly with Sir Joshua's full-length of Mrs. Billington as Saint Cecilia. As Kenneth Garlick commented, Reynolds's portrait of Lady Billington was 'the traditional, academic rendering, the assertion by Reynolds of his learning and his wisdom at the end of his career', while Lawrence's portraits represented 'a confident statement by a young man just beginning, something new, less learned, less well-bred, perhaps just slightly brash, but amazingly clever' (op. cit., p. 16).

The intimacy that Lawrence achieves in this portrait, and indeed in those of Lady Berkeley's sisters, is something distinct from the portraiture of Reynolds and Gainsborough and reflects his sensitivity to the changing social attitudes of the time. Lawrence's delight in the handling of paint is manifested in the masterly brushwork with which he so deftly conveys Lady Berkeley's powdered hair and the sensuous lines and texture of her elegant white dress and black shawl. Sir Michael Levey commented on Lawrence's 'almost fevered sensibility' and 'the tautly receptive, nervously keen sensitivity' that, combined with his great technical mastery, was central to Lawrence's ability to distill the essence of his artistic response to those who sat to him. In this portrait Lawrence captures something of the freshness and vivacity of Lady Berkeley's character as well as her alluring youthful beauty.

This portrait passed by inheritance to the present owner through Lady Berkeley's youngest daughter Louisa Georgina Berkeley, who was married to Sir Thomas Hardy, the Naval officer famously with Admiral Nelson at his death.

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