British Art  

Regarding Sir Thomas Lawrence

Of the great British painters Lawrence is certainly the one whose work is most widely known in France. His travels in this country, together with the models he chose, the Salons he took part in, the success he met with, and the laurels he won were all contributing factors; and it may also be that his technical brilliance, rapid brushwork and very "painterly" persona struck home more deeply with the French. By contrast neither Gainsborough, Reynolds, Constable or Turner have ever generated the same interest among French art lovers, whose devotion to Lawrence lives on in France's public collections.
The Louvre is startlingly well-off in this regard, and some of its paintings—among them Mrs IsaacCuthbert (1817), originally part of the Carlos de Beistegui Collection, and Charles William Bell (ca. 1797), with its remarkable brushwork—can be counted among Lawrence's masterpieces. Mr and Mrs John Julius Angerstein (1792) would not be out of place in the National Gallery in London, nor would Sir George Beaumont (ca. 1808), the portrait of one of the key patrons of British art at the time. The Louvre's Prints and Drawings Department possesses and continues to acquire major drawings by Lawrence: a preliminary sketch for Satan Summoning His Legions, one of the artist's few history paintings, was bought in 1980.
Not to be outdone, other French museums offer such truly extraordinary works as the Portrait of Henry Fuseli in the Musée Bonnat in Bayonne; and that of Pascal Paoli, liberator of Corsica and so famous in England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century that he was painted by every important artist the country had to offer. Since its opening in 1996 the Angladon-Dubrujeaux Foundation in Avignon has been showing an unfinished portrait of a woman originally in the collection of Jacques Doucet. Nor should this overview omit the portrait of Mrs Allnutt in the museum in Lyon, that of John Hunter in Bordeaux, and other Lawrence portraits to be found in private collections.

Olivier Meslay

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