Thomas Lawrence

The Beautiful Washerwoman

Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Medium Black and red chalk

Dimension 63.2 x 41.3 cm (24⁷/₈ x 16¹/₄ inches)

Only a few drawings of genre, landscape or history subjects by Thomas Lawrence are known, and this large sheet is one such example. Executed with delicate touches of black and red chalk, it is likely datable to the 1790s. It is among the largest known drawings by the artist, and is also unusual in his drawn oeuvre on account of its genre subject. Indeed, this fine drawing can be seen as Lawrence’s contribution to the popular 18th century English genre known as the ‘fancy’ picture; scenes of everyday life that usually involved an element of narrative or storytelling, often of a sentimental nature, and were imbued with ‘quasi-religious or social implications, [and] with an emphasis on poverty, benevolence and sympathy.’ An antecedent of Victorian subject paintings, the 18th century ‘fancy’ picture included depictions of children, street urchins, maids, market women, shepherds, beggars and so forth, in the form of portraits or character studies. Although he painted very few genre subjects, it may be noted that Lawrence’s diploma work upon his election to the Royal Academy in 1794 was just such a ‘fancy’ painting of a Gypsy Girl, which remains today in the collection of the Royal Academy in London.

The artist was also particularly admired for his portraits of young children, whom he depicted with great sensitivity and charm. Kenneth Garlick has observed that ‘Lawrence was noted for his success not only in drawing children but also in identifying with them. They loved him, and his quick, sympathetic eye could catch their movements to perfection.’

The first known owner of this large drawing was the poet, politician and patron of the arts Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton (1809-1885). Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the Apostles Club, Milnes travelled around Italy and Greece, publishing an account of his tour in 1834. Elected as a Conservative MP for Pontefract in 1837, he was raised to the peerage by Lord Palmerston in 1863. Elected to the Royal Society in 1868, Milnes was a poet and writer, and a noted patron of such authors as Algernon Charles Swinburne and Alfred Lord Tennyson. 

The present sheet was later inherited by his only son, the Liberal politician and statesman Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe (1858-1945), who lent the drawing to the Royal Yorkshire Jubilee Exhibition in 1887, and thence passed to his youngest daughter, Lady Mary Evelyn Hungerford Crewe-Milnes, later Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe (1915-2014).

Medium: Black and red chalk

Dimension: 63.2 x 41.3 cm (24⁷/₈ x 16¹/₄ inches)

Provenance: Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, London and Fryston Hall, Castleford, West Yorkshire
By descent to his granddaughter, Mary Innes-Ker, Duchess of Roxburghe, London and West Horsley Place, Surrey
Her posthumous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 27-28 May 2015, lot 7
Daniel Katz, London.

Exhibition: Saltaire, The Royal Yorkshire Jubilee Exhibition, 1887, unnumbered.

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Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Old Master, 19th Century and Modern Drawings, Watercolours and Oil Sketches

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