Sir Thomas Lawrence

Philadelphia Hannah, 1st Viscountess Cremorne

exhibited 1789

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Not on display

Sir Thomas Lawrence 1769–1830
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2403 × 1480 mm
Presented by the Patrons of British Art through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1988

Display caption

Lawrence was largely self-taught. He painted this portrait, his first full-length, at the age of nineteen. It put him on the map when the sitter introduced him to her friend, Queen Charlotte, who then commissioned her own portrait. Lawrence turned this into a virtuoso performance. He became the leading British portrait painter, and President of the Royal Academy. His fluent, expressive style and powerful characterisation were admired throughout Europe.The 1st Viscountess Cremorne was a granddaughter of William Penn, founder of Philadelphia. The wild background landscape must refer to Ireland, her husband’s home, if not to the American wilderness.

Gallery label, May 2007

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Technique and condition

The support is plain woven, linen canvas of medium weight, with a lean, oil-bound, off-white priming, probably applied by an artists' colourman.

The paint is oil, probably enriched in the dark passages with resins or perhaps bitumen. It was all built up rapidly in scumbles and glazes, with thick impasto used in the modelling of the foliage, the white areas of the costume, the tassel and the carpet (see raking-light photograph). Many areas of the paintings have developed shrinkage-cracks as a result of the original techniques: slow drying layers laid on top of faster drying layers usually develop cracks like this. The irregular browning of the face is a result of the fugitive pigment (probably a translucent red lake) fading in light, leaving us with the oil or oleo-resinous medium in which it was bound. The thick body-paint beneath it has remained unfaded.

When the painting was glue lined some time since the late nineteenth century, the heat and pressure of the iron caused some compression of the impasto. The varnish is natural resin and has yellowed very slightly.

Rica Jones

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