This oil sketch relates to a finished portrait painted by Lawrence in 1811 (oil on canvas, 91.4 by 71/1 cm.) which has descended in the sitter’s family. Lawrence’s oil sketches provide a fascinating insight into his working methods as he began a new portrait commission. A master draughtsman, he maintained his belief “that the picture, whatever it is, be first accurately drawn on the canvas.”1 In this sketch, we see the head of Lady Elizabeth, with her face and part of her hair fully painted in oil while the back of her head, still unfinished, is rendered in black chalk drawn directly onto the canvas Another of Lawrence’s sitters, Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, whose portrait he painted in 1817-18 and who saw his preliminary drawing of her, recalled that “what struck me most during my two hours’ sittings in Russell Square was the perfection of the drawing of his portraits, before any colour was put on—the drawing itself was so perfectly beautiful that it seemed almost a sin to add any colour.”2 When Lawrence died in 1830, some 200 unfinished portraits were found in his Russell Square house, a few dating as far back as the 1790s. Most of them, such as this portrait, were given to the sitters or their families.3
A copy of this sketch, which had descended in the Cavendish-Bentinck family, (oil and pencil on board, 40.1 by 34.7 cm.) was sold at Sotheby's, London, 26 October 2016, lot 1018. The sitter's sister, Lady Mary Lowther (died 1862) was married to Maj.-Gen. Lord Frederick Cavendish-Bentinck (1781-1828).
1. In a letter of circa 1790 to Lord Malden; see M. Levey, Sir Thomas Lawrence, New Haven & London 2005, pp. 2, 320, note 6.
2. Lord R.S. Gower, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London 1900, pp. 37-38.
3. See K. Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London 1955, p. 17.
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