Holburne Museum buys a sketch by Thomas Lawrence

The acquisition of Lawrence’s sketch for one of his most celebrated portraits, Arthur Atherley, has been supported by the Art Fund.

The Holburne Museum has acquired a preparatory oil sketch of Arthur Atherley by Thomas Lawrence that has never been displayed in a public museum. Lawrence was commissioned to paint Arthur Atherley, who had recently left Eton College and who would later become an MP for the Southampton constituency. The artist was just three years older than his 19-year-old sitter.

In autumn 2015 the Holburne set out to raise £450,000, including a public appeal target of £61,209, for the acquisition of the sketch and the delivery of a learning programme. Following the successful campaign to raise the funds, Jennifer Scott, the Holburne’s director said: ‘The response from our visitors, friends, patrons and supporters at all levels has been overwhelming, enabling us to raise this large amount in a short time period. It is a reflection of both the quality of the painting itself, and the relevance of an outstanding early Lawrence portrait coming to the south west.’

Thomas Lawrence was a child prodigy. He was born in Bristol, but after several of his father’s ventures failed to prosper, the family moved to Bath. From the age of ten he supported his family through the money he earned from painting portraits. Talented, charming, handsome and surprisingly modest, the young Lawrence was popular with Bath residents and visitors.

Just before his 18th birthday, he relocated his family to London and soon established his reputation as a portrait painter. From his arrival in London in 1787 until his death in 1830, Lawrence showed work at almost every annual Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, with two exceptions. In the 1792 exhibition, he exhibited his three-quarter length portrait of Arthur Atherley. It is one of his best-known works and now hangs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: ‘We are so pleased to support the acquisition of this important portrait, an excellent addition to the museum’s fine collection of 18th-century art. Heartfelt thanks to everyone else who helped through the public appeal to make this happen – a sign of widespread support for the Holburne’s admirable collecting ambitions.’

The work was acquired with support from the Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, along with members of the public.

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