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Reblogged from Pippa Rathborne’s CONTRAblog

part four of The Character of Light
John Keats, Thomas Lawrence and the Brilliance Feminine

Thomas-Lawrence croft

Sir Thomas Lawrence. Mrs. Jens Wolff, 1803 – 1815.
© The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection.

We feed on the human drama; it stirs and nourishes us. The painting suddenly looks better. We must forget….

While Pre-Raphaelite female beauty is impassive, the women in Thomas Lawrence’s Regency society portraits are animated, with parted lips, sparkling eyes, and “flush of welcome ever on the cheek”.[1] Lawrence, though dependent on “the wolfsbane of fashion and foppery and tattle” that Keats claimed to despise,[2] captured likenesses in what he referred to as“the fleeting moment of Expression”,[3] the same as  “the instant feeling”[4] admired by Keats in Kean’s acting.

In “his elegant affetuosa style”, the genuine tender feeling underlying his swagger discerned by Constable, [5]Lawrence portrayed women as intelligent, sexually confident individuals and imbued his male sitters with feminine sensitivity, transforming the most prosaic of politicians and bloated of princes into Byronic heroes.

Under the suave surface, he untied his own Gordian self-identity in his paintings, the fundamental subject of art being the artist, in manifold identities. As if enthralled by Keats’ three passing “figures on a marble urn” in Ode on Indolence, sometimes, led by fame, rather than art, Lawrence was cloyingly flattering, but when moved by love, for man or woman, he painted like a poet…

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Take care and keep laughing!



This fascinating post has been re-blogged from Pippa Rathborne’s CONTRAblog.  Enjoy!

Sarah Martha Siddons, c.1795, portrayed and betrayed by the Romantic painter, Thomas Lawrence.
Private Collection. Image source: Wikipedia
“Whenever I meet his eyes…it is like an electric shock to me”


Sally (1775-1803) and her sister Maria (1779 -1798) were both in love with the gifted and ambitious portrait painter Thomas Lawrence, a friend of their mother’s, the actress Sarah Siddons. The whole family had known him well for several years. In his mid-twenties, he looked like a romantic hero, graceful, dark and delicately featured, complete with soul-piercing eyes, and behaved with the destructive emotional immaturity to which many former child prodigies are susceptible. He courted both girls in turn, initially forming an attachment to Sally, then announcing that he was in love with the younger girl, Maria, who was already showing symptoms of consumption. Months later, he confessed that it was really Sally he had loved all along, and his engagement to Maria was broken off. He seems to have been genuinely confused about his feelings – Mrs Siddons, always indulgent of him, thought he was quixotic – but that wasn’t really the point, and entirely escaped the egotist.

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Take care and keep laughing!



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