Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (1769 - 1830)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Sir Thomas Lawrence was a child prodigy who became the leading British portrait painter of his generation and was elected President of the Royal Academy in 1820.

Born in Bristol in 1769, Lawrence entered the Royal Academy Schools aged 18 and was elected a Royal Academician just six years later. In 1792, he succeeded the Royal Academy’s founder, Joshua Reynolds, as the King’s official Painter-in-Ordinary, completing several portraits of the monarch. Lawrence’s flattering and glamorous portraits proved highly popular and, from this period onwards, he was kept busy with a constant stream of commissions from the rich and famous.

In 1814, Lawrence was given a prestigious commission by the Prince Regent to paint the allied military leaders, diplomats and heads of state involved in the defeat of Napoleon, including King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia, Tsar Alexander I of Russia and the Duke of Wellington. The initial commission proved slightly premature when Napoleon returned from exile on the island of Elba but it continued in earnest after the French leader’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Lawrence’s paintings now hang in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. In official recognition of his service he was knighted in 1815. In 1820 he was elected President of the Royal Academy, a post he held until his death.

Lawrence never married but was the subject of much gossip in his day. He was romantically linked with many women, including both Sally and Maria Siddons, daughters of the famous actress Sarah Siddons.

Despite his fame and wealthy clientele, Lawrence’s financial affairs, were very unstable. Although he did not lead a particularly lavish lifestyle and was known to be a hard worker, Lawrence spent much of his life in debt. He is thought to have been generous to his relatives and bad at keeping accounts but some of his debts were undoubtedly due to his activities as an art collector. Lawrence built up an unrivalled collection of Old Masters drawings including works by Michelangelo and Raphael; many of which are now in the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. In 1830 at the age of 60, Lawrence died insolvent. His treasured collection was sold off piecemeal—buyers included the Royal Academy, which purchased his collection of Italian architectural casts.


Royal Academician

Born: 13 April 1769 in Bristol, Avon, England, United Kingdom

Died: 7 January 1830

Nationality: British

RA Schools student from 13 September 1787

Elected ARA: 10 November 1791

Elected RA: 10 February 1794

President from: 1820 - 1830

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Sir Thomas Lawrence in the RA Collection

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Works after Sir Thomas Lawrence in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Sir Thomas Lawrence in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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