The National Gallery acquires Thomas Lawrence’s exceptional work The Red Boy

Sir Thomas Lawrence Charles William Lambton 1825 Unframed H 137.2 x W 111.8 cm
Sir Thomas Lawrence Charles William Lambton 1825 Unframed H 137.2 x W 111.8 cm

The iconic Portrait of Charles William Lambton, world renowned as 'The Red Boy', by Sir Thomas Lawrence, is being acquired by the National Gallery with Art Fund support.

Considered one of Lawrence’s masterpieces, this portrait of the six- or seven-year-old Charles William Lambton was commissioned by his father John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham, and was painted when the artist was at the height of his career as portraitist. Lawrence, who was the leading British portrait painter of the early 19th century and one of the first trustees of the National Gallery, had recently been elected President of the Royal Academy when he received the commission.

The exceptional work caused much comment on its first exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1825 -The Times remarked on the ‘sparkling intelligence of youth’- and its status is such that it became the first painting ever to be included on a British postage stamp, in 1967.

“The Red Boy” was also one of the first British paintings to be exhibited at the Paris Salon after the Napoleonic Wars, in 1827, together with outstanding works by artists like Delacroix and Ingres.

The painting, an ambitious and poetic work on an unusually large scale for a portrait of a child, shows Lawrence’s mature powers to the full. It has been suggested that the atypical background, a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, might have been inspired by Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks. Lawrence may have intended his setting to characterise the young boy as being on the cusp of a journey through life - unfortunately the sitter, who was heir to Baron Durham, died at age 13 from tuberculosis.

The acquisition of this work has been made possible thanks to funding from different sources including a £300,000 grant from Art Fund and a commitment from the American Friends of the National Gallery, plus funding from other sources including donations from individuals and charitable trusts, restricted grants, and legacies already made to the National Gallery.

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