Friday, February 25, 2011

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance

If you go to the Yale Center for British Art's newest exhibition Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance on a weekday morning, you'll have your own private showing of a wonderful exhibition.  Well, maybe not private, there was a whole lot of loud talking from museum staff while I was there.  But perhaps they were just buzzing about their newest showcase! I would gladly take the talking over the crowds that will undoubtedly be trekking to see this exhibition.

I will start out by saying the YCBA has a different sort of exhibition space.  It's good for the permanent collection but a little awkward when you are directing traffic such as curators are supposed to.  It was nice having the space to myself so I could backtrack and make sure I didn't miss any of the paintings.  I found myself actually going in circles in the midst of a big circular exhibition space which was slightly tedious.  The other thing that bothered me about the space was how it was continuously mentioned that two of Lawrence's portraits brought him fame, Queen Charlotte and Elizabeth Farren.  So it would make sense for the two paintings to be together at the beginning, right? Instead they were split up, with the Farren portrait at the end.  Now, with that slight criticism out of the way I can flatter the exhibition!

As a whole Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance was absolutely wonderful.  It is explained that early in his career Lawrence got some well-meant advice from Joshua Reynolds who basically told him to lay off the portraits and try history paintings.  However, upon viewing one of Lawrence's few history paintings, while well-painted, the passion is missing.  Look around at the numerous portraits and you can see where' Lawrence's talents lie.  Thank goodness he didn't take Reynolds' advice!

Having Lawrence's greatest works together allowed me to noticed that he has a similar technique to Gainsborough; effortless paint strokes on the face, labored rendering on clothing or objects.  But what really struck me was the fabulous backgrounds he put his sitters in, backgrounds easily missed in small book reproductions.  Lawrence tended to sneak in a building that had meaning to his sitters such as their home, school, or a home landmark.  The exhibition also featured many of Lawrence's drawings, some of which I had seen at The Intimate Portrait such as Mrs. Hamilton.  Normally drawings are hidden away so you have to wait for exhibits such as these to see them in all their splendor.

As mentioned before, the famous Elizabeth Farren and Queen Charlotte (who rejected the painting, btw) were there.  I was also pleased to see the NPG's newly acquired , John Kemble as Cato which has an amazing presence and is quite stunning in person.  Ultimate Regency hunk, Granville Leveson-Gower was there, as well as the man who made the Regency possible, The Prince of Wales.  The sitters are too numerous to name but there was one lavishly-ringed sitter who Lawrence had the pleasure to draw when she was 62 years old.  Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire, or Bess, as we commonly know her, came with this comment: "Although we cannot be sure if it was the duchess's vanity or Lawrence's ability to flatter that accounts for her youthful appearance."

If you are on the fence about visiting Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance it is my personal opinion that you should affix your slippers or cravats and go!  Although it could be considered small in scale, the retrospective is packed with Lawrence's greatest works which makes it an exhibition wellworth your time, especially since its time at Yale is its only North American stop. My advice- go during a weekday so you can keep Lawrence all to yourself; you just might have to share with all those chatty staff members!

Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will be at the Yale Center for British Art through 5 June.


  1. Oh my gosh! You went already?! Lol I was just reading you last post when I refreshed the page and saw you posted your review!
    Im definitely going to see this. I live right near campus and wanted to go today, well technically yesterday, lol, but ive been sooo sick.
    On Monday, May 9th, the museum is holding the "Connecticut Art Docent Symposium: Reflections on Portraits". It looks pretty interesting and there will be diffrent gallery sessions to choose from. There is a fee of $45 but i think it may include lunch at the pizza place BAR. And sign up is by April 1st. I can email you the pdf pamphlet if you havnt got it.

  2. I would so have liked to see this! Unfortunately, I didn't make it to London in time (got there about a week too late) and I doubt the exhibition will ever land anywhere close to me. :(

    I did get some Thomas Lawrence portraits at The Wallace Collection earlier this week though, but it wasn't enough.

  3. @MJ, Hehe, I'm quick! I saw that symposium but I've been pinching pennies lately so I will probably miss out. Mmm Bar...haven't had their pizza in forever! If you go you'll have to let me know how it was.

    @Felicia, Oh no that stinks, I know the feeling! At least you made it to the Wallace, it's one of my favorite museums.

  4. I definitely want to see this exhibition. I may have to trot up to New Haven one of these days.

  5. Once again...lucky girl! You are so getting your fill of divine exhibitions these days:) And- I'm just lucky to be living it all vicariously thru your blog! Thanks

  6. Glad you made it. Unfortunately, my trip will have to wait until later this spring. Meanwhile, I salivate.

  7. Thank goodness it is there until June!

  8. I was able to go see it today. It was great. The paintings of Elizabeth Farren and Catherine Gray (with the peacock) were breathtaking. And of course, Lord Granville Leveson Gower was utterly handsome. I wanted to take him home with me!
    I was kind of surprised they didnt get "Pinky" in the exhibit though. Or some other paintings of George IV besides the unfinished one. But either way it was fantastic.