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Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1769–1830

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, later first Earl Granville

Former Title(s):

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville

Granville, First Earl

between 1804 and 1809
Oil on canvas
92 1/2 x 51 1/2 inches (235 x 130.8 cm), Frame: 106 1/2 × 71 inches (270.5 × 180.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
ambassador | clouds | coat of arms | column (architectural element) | costume | drape | figure | fur | insignia | light | man | portrait | sky | standing
Associated People:
Leveson-Gower, Granville (1773–1846), diplomatist and the first Earl Granville
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Thomas Lawrence was a child prodigy and largely selftaught as a painter. By 1789 he had established himself as heir to Joshua Reynolds in the tradition of grand manner portrait painting and was appointed Painter in Ordinary to King George III when Reynolds died in 1792. Lawrence was, however, notoriously slow at painting, often taking on too many portrait commissions in a bid to pay off his extensive debts. This full-length of Lord Granville LevesonGower was begun in 1804 but remained unfinished in 1809, causing the sitter’s mother to berate Lawrence for his “sad illiberal way of going on.” Lawrence’s work was, however, highly esteemed across Europe, especially in France where his bravura style and rich coloring were emulated by the younger romantics such as Eugène Delacroix, who visited Lawrence in London in 1825.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

The imposing portrait Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, later 1st Earl Granville displays Sir Thomas Lawrence’s mastery of design and handling of paint. The arrangement of the foreground figure and the crimson curtain, and the dramatic stormy sky, draw upon the manner of the Old Masters, yet despite the grandeur of the traditional setting, Lawrence captured the immediacy of Lord Granville’s demeanor in his relaxed pose and penetrating eyes. The most celebrated portraitist in Europe during his lifetime, Lawrence was greatly admired by Eugène Delacroix.

Gallery label for the Critique of Reason: Romantic Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26)

According to the diarist Lady Holland, who met Lord Granville in 1794 in Florence, the subject of this glamorous full-length portrait by Lawrence was "remarkably handsome and winning." Granville was described by others as an Apollo, an Adonis, and an Alcibiades, but his promising career in politics (as an ally of the Tory statesman and future prime minister George Canning) gave way to diplomacy. He joined several missions to France and Prussia, before being sent as British ambassador to St. Petersburg (1804), Brussels (1815), The Hague (1823), and finally France (1824). He suffered from gout.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
This portrait, painted by Lawrence during a time of personal and professional crisis, embodies his ability to channel his almost fevered sensibility into his art. His voluptuous handling of the paint on the canvas, combined with the virtuosity in his treatment of the various fabrics (fur, silk, linen) and the accessories of the setting, become themselves representative of his sitter's status, importance, and character; as with van Dyck's portraits of Caroline royalty and nobility two centuries earlier, the richness of the paint surface is used to express and to symbolize the aristocracy of the person portrayed. Lawrence's affinities with van Dyck extend both to his composition (which features a column that stabilizes and aggrandizes the subject, as well as a red velvet curtain pulled back to reveal a dramatic broad landscape) and to his use of the particularities of contemporary dress to evoke the sitter's immediate presence. Leveson-Gower's red silk watch-fob, peeking out from below his waistcoat, along with his gold pinkie ring, are intimate and personal reminders of his individuality-these are the "minute breaks and peculiarities" Reynolds sought to wipe from his own portraits in order to give them "the acquired dignity taken from general nature."1 Although adhering to the traditions of full-length portraits from van Dyck to Reynolds, the painting of Leveson-Gower is firmly of the Romantic Era: the overall aloof expression and attitude of the sitter (whose pose openly recalls that of the Marble Faun, an ancient Roman copy of an earlier Greek sculpture) combine with the melodramatic light effects that play around his figure to convey a sense of inner darkness worthy of a Byronic hero.
Born in Bristol in 1773, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower was the third and youngest son of the 1st Marquess of Stafford. His familial and aristocratic connections enabled him to move in political circles from an early age, and in 1800 he was appointed a Lord of the Treasury. In 1804 he became a member of the Privy Council, and in July of that year he was made Ambassador Extraordinary to St. Petersburg. It is likely that this appointment prompted the commission of this portrait.
Lawrence had the work well under way and perhaps almost finished by November of that year. Lady Bessborough, the sitter's longtime mistress and mother of his illegitimate daughter, wrote to him that month: "Lawrence told me (perhaps by way of ?attery) that your Picture had given him more pleasure than any he ever painted."2 It was still not ready by May 1805, however, and the sitter's mother wrote her son expressing great consternation at the delay:
I have not got your Picture. Lawrence has not touch'd it since you left England; he pays no Attention to my repeated Messages. He is accused of constantly keeping all the Pictures that are pay'd for, and of sending those unpay'd Home to receive the Money when they are finish'd. That is a sad illiberal way of going on.3
Indeed, the portrait was still in Lawrence's studio in Greek Street as late as 1806, by which time the painter's banker Thomas Coutts had compiled an inventory of his studio that lists this portrait alongside the sum of £147 (140 guineas)-the same figure that appears with other paintings of similar size still in Lawrence's possession. It is not clear whether this was the sum already paid to Lawrence, the sum owed on the picture, or (as is most probable) the total price to be paid. In any case, a year after making her irritated comments about Lawrence's lax and unprofessional business practices, Lady Stafford had clearly not received the painting. And, from notes in the painter Joseph Farington's diary of 1809 indicating that he had recently seen Leveson-Gower at the painter's studio, one may speculate that even by that late date the work was not yet finished.

1. Joshua Reynolds, Discourse IV, 72. 2. Leveson-Gower, 1:494. 3. Ibid., 2:66. Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 108, no. 40, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977-1986, Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1986, pp. 9, 15, no. 32, fig. 7, N590.2 A7 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Walter Armstrong, Lawrence, Methuen & co., ltd., London, 1913, p. 135, NJ18 L42 A75 (YCBA) Also Available Online (ORBIS) [YCBA]

British portraits : Winter exhibition, 1956-57., , , Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1956, v.1, p. 125, no. 399, N5054 A545 1956/57 v. 1 and 2 (YCBA) Alao available on Microfiche; Fiche B196, fiche #'s 1 - 4 [YCBA]

David Cannadine, Aspects of aristocracy, grandeur and decline in modern Britain , Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994, p. 34, fig. 4, HT653 G7 C357 1994 {YCBA) [ORBIS]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 142-43, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Dr. Kenneth Garlick, A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence, Volume of the Walpole Society, v. 39, Walpole Society, 1962-1964, p. 125, N12 W35 A1 39 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Dr. Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, a complete catalogue of the oil paintings , Phaidon, Oxford, 1989, p. 224, no. 488, fig. 488, NJ18 L42 G376 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Dr. Kenneth Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1954, p. 46, pl. 40, NJ18 L42 G37 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ronald Sutherland Gower, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Goupil, J. Boussod, Manzi, Joyant, successors, London New York, 1900, p. 133, NJ18 L42 G7 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Michael Levey, Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1769-1830, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1979, pp. 44-45, no. 20, NJ18 L42 L48 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 108, no. 40, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v.3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Duncan Robinson, Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977 - 1986, , Burlington Magazine, vol. 128, October 1986, pp. 9, 15, cat. 32, fig. 7, N1 B87 128:3 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

South Kensington Museum, Catalogue of the third and concluding exhibition of national portraits commencing with the fortieth year of the reign of George the Third and ending with the year MDCCCLXVII. On loan to the South Kensington museum. April 13, 1868., London, 1868, p. 93, No. 460, N7598 S6 1868 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The critique of reason : Romantic art, 1760-1860 : March 6-July 26, 2015, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2015, [pp. 10, 11], fig. 16, V 2574 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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