John Philip Kemble as Cato by Sir Thomas Lawrence

This imposing seated full-length portrait depicts John Philip Kemble (1757-1823) at the height of his career in the leading role of Joseph's Addison's play Cato, when it was revived in 1811.


Oil on canvas
254 x 177.8 cm
Art Fund grant:
£55,000 ( Total: £178,500; Tax remission)
Acquired in:
Private vendor

The celebrity of this role was enhanced by people admiring Lawrence's painting and the several prints relating to it. Lawrence had a great love of theatre and this was the last and most successful of four experimental portraits of Kemble in which Lawrence pushed the limits of the genre by exploring the relationship between portraiture and history painting. Lawrence called these his 'half-history' pictures. The work fits in well with the gallery's collection as it both reveals the artist's portrait practice and sheds light on British history through this portrait of a great figure.


Commissioned by Charles John Gardiner, 2nd Viscount Mountjoy, later 1st Earl of Blessington, 1811; returned to Thomas Lawrence c. 1814; returned by Thomas Lawrence's executors to the executors of Lord Blessington; John Burton Phillips in the early 1

Venue details

National Portrait Gallery St Martin's Place, LONDON London WC2H 0HE 020 7306 0055

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