Friday, February 25, 2011
Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance
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!
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.