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Thomas Lawrence – the ‘go to’ Georgian portrait painter from Devizes

Thomas Lawrence was born in Bristol in 1769 and moved to Devizes in 1773, when his father became landlord of the Bear Hotel. Devizes was on the coaching route from London to the fashionable spa at Bath and many important people stayed at the Bear Hotel.

At the age of 5 Thomas was entertaining visitors by reciting Shakepeare and poems by Milton or by ‘taking likenesses’. He impressed Garrick, the famous actor, with his performances. His drawing and painting became well know and he was said to ‘paint eyes better than Titian’.

His talent became famous, and his portrait at the age of 7 was published as an engraving.  He went to school for 2 years in Bristol, but returned to Devizes where he was taught Latin and French by Rev Jervis, who lived in one of the buildings now occupied by the Museum – so he may have been taught in the building.

At the age of 10 he was well-known for his portraits and is described in a contemporary book called ‘The Dawning of Genius’ and that “in about seven minutes he scarcely ever failed in drawing a stone likeness of any person present, which had generally much freedom and grace.”

In 1779 his family moved to Bath where he established his career as an artist, before moving to London. He became the most popular Georgian portrait painter and President of the Royal Academy.

Our collection includes a pastel portait of an unknown gentleman, written on the back is the note ‘Be pleased to keep this portrait from the Sun and Damp. T Lawrence. Pinx. 1784.’.

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