Lawrence, Thomas, Sir (1769 - 1830)

Portrait presumed to be of Princess Clémentine de Metternich

Temporarily away,

Size : H. 74.5 x l. 62.5 cm
Inventory number : J 74

LThe deliberately unfinished look of this elegant portrait reflects a fashion in which Thomas Lawrence, the greatest English portrait painter of the first third of the 19th century, successfully indulged. The artist, who lived in London in 1787, was self-taught, although he benefited from the advice of Joshua Reynolds. On the latter's death in 1792, the young Lawrence took over as main painter to King George III. This meant that he received the greatest royal commissions but was also sought after by the leading members of the court and by the European elite. His career peaked when he became Chairman of the Royal Academy in London from 1820 until his death. Travelling in Europe thanks to his powerful protectors, in 1818 the artist went to the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, where Napoleon’s former adversaries (England, Austria, Prussia and Russia) renegotiated the conditions of the debacle of the Empire with the French Restoration monarchy. This would give Lawrence the opportunity to approach Prince de Metternich, the Austrian Foreign Minister, in the privacy of his family. Although the identity of the model is uncertain, tradition recognises it as the "Portrait of the Princess of Metternich", but no mention in the artist's inventories or his correspondence corroborates or clarifies this title. The model is therefore thought to be Princess Clémentine, eldest daughter of the Prince of Metternich and his first wife, Eleonore von Kaunitz. The painter represented her in an allegorical painting as Iris, messenger of the gods (Metternich-Winneburg Collection, Vienna). Lawrence painted only the bust of the young woman, with remarkable physical and psychological intensity, standing out against a quickly painted brown background that highlights her complexion. The shape of the model's upper body is suggested by light touches of paint outlining her dress, while the rest of the canvas has been left blank. This technical virtuosity, like the introspection of Clémentine de Metternich, connects the portrait to the artistic approach of the Romanticists, in whose work the expression of personality took precedence. The model's deep melancholy seems somewhat premonitory. Clémentine was indeed to die in 1820, at only 16 years of age.


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