Stipple engraving, Samuel Freeman, 1797, plate to The Monthly Mirror (1807).
Inchbald is thought to have met Lawrence through the actress Sarah Siddons with whom she had a close friendship. This portrait of circa 1796, left unfinished, provides us with insight into Lawrence’s working method when beginning a portrait. According to his early biographer, Allan Cunningham, “His constant practice was to begin by making a drawing of the head full size on canvass; carefully tracing dimensions and expression. This took up one day.”1 At the next sitting, Lawrence would begin to paint the head. In this portrait of Mrs. Inchbald, we see exactly this method with the head having been almost fully worked up while her torso is delineated by black chalk drawn directly on the canvas. Though never completed, Lawrence has already captured the beauty and keen intelligence of his sitter.
Another portrait of Elizabeth Inchbald by Lawrence, dating from a few years later, was sold at Sotheby’s London on 10 July 1991, lot 54.
1. See A. Cunningham, The Lives of the most eminent British Painters, Sculptors and Architects, London 1833, vol. 6, pp. 194-195.
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