Gainsborough's forgotten rival Thomas Lawrence is recognised at last

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Unseen works by one of greatest Regency portraitists to go on show

In the late 1770s members of high society travelling through Devizes on their way to Bath would often stop off at the town's public houses for a night of repose. The Bear Inn was a particularly popular spot, thanks to the astonishing talents of the landlord's son who, at the age of five, entertained guests by crafting near-perfect pastel renditions of his sitters for a guinea.

The young boy's name was Thomas Lawrence, a child prodigy who went on to become one of the most successful painters of the Regency period.

Now a new exhibition of his work – the first in Britain for more than 30 years – hopes to resurrect Lawrence's reputation as one of Britain's most formidable and talented portraitists.

The exhibition will open at the National Portrait Gallery in October and go on tour in the US next year. For connoisseurs of Regency art it is a remarkable event because much of Lawrence's work is rarely seen in public.

Among the 54 paintings on display will be a trio of works which are usually only visible at Windsor Castle's Waterloo Chamber. The chamber, built to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon, features some of Lawrence's grandest paintings, including portraits of Charles, the Archduke of Austria, and Gebhardt von Blücher – the Prussian general whose arrival at the Battle of Waterloo helped turn the tide against France. The two previously unseen portraits, meanwhile, are of the Countess Thérèse Czernin and Lady Cahir.

Peter Funnell, the National Portrait Gallery's curator of 19th-century art, said he hoped that the exhibition would help Britons rediscover a painter who was lauded when he lived but was quickly forgotten after his death in 1830.

"Lawrence's reputation diminished very rapidly when he died because of the Victorian evangelical backlash to the Regency period," he said. "But he really was one of the period's finest painters. He is a strikingly innovative painter who created works that are beautifully rendered and a joy to look at."

Lawrence's father was very proud of his son and would often greet guests at his inn with the words: "A recitation or your portrait, sir?" But it seems he was less talented at business than his son who, as a young teenager, became the major breadwinner for the family.

By 1782 the Lawrence family had settled in Bath and largely relied on Lawrence's portraits to provide their income. Within five years the young painter's reputation had blossomed to such an extent that he was taken under the wing of Sir Joshua Reynolds as soon as he arrived in London.

Alongside his bitter rival Thomas Gainsborough, Reynolds pioneered the Grand Style – a form of painting that attempted to recreate the grandeur and skill of the high Renaissance. His friends and fellow artists helped to found the Royal Academy and they regarded history painting as the highest form of art.

But it was primarily the portraiture of Britain's growing aristocracy that kept the money rolling in, and it was into this world that Lawrence was swiftly adopted upon his arrival in London. By 1791, at the age of 22, he had already been accepted into the Academy. The death of Reynolds a year later opened royal doors for his protégé, who was appointed the main painter to King George III and, later, his son, George IV, who ruled as Prince Regent during his father's madness.

Lawrence's paintings of the Prince Regent are some of his most famous, numerous – and flattering – works. He was renowned as a notoriously obese lecher, but Lawrence, in the manner of all good portrait painters of his time, depicted his subject as a slim, majestic leader, draped in finery and medals.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?