Sir Thomas Lawrence

John Philip Kemble as Hamlet

1801

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 3061 x 1981 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by King William IV 1836
Reference
N00142

Display caption

Kemble was the leading tragic actor on the English stage. This painting, exhibited at the Academy in 1801, is the most famous of four huge canvases which Lawrence painted showing Kemble in various dramatic roles.

It shows the importance of size in as a means of dominating the Academy’s exhibitions. Portraits like this would be shown ‘above the line’, that is with their frames resting on a moulding eight foot (2.4 m) from the floor. This meant they could be seen above the heads of the crowds. The biggest paintings also usually claimed most attention in the press.

Gallery label, September 2004