Sir Thomas Lawrence, Emma, a chalk drawing

England, AD 1791

Portrait of a famous beauty

Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) was a self-taught child prodigy: he was working as a professional portraitist by the age of ten. He became official artist to the King in 1792 on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds and in 1820 he was made President of the Royal Academy. He gathered an exceptionally fine collection of Old Master drawings which he offered to the nation in his will for far less than their market value and his offer was foolishly refused, although many later entered The British Museum's collection through other means.

Emma Hart (1765-1815), later Lady Hamilton and the lover of Admiral Nelson, was famous throughout Europe both for her beauty and her 'attitudes', a form of performance art in which she portrayed contrasting emotions through gesture, expression and a variety of props. The signature 'Emma' and the date were written by her when she presented the drawing to a friend, the collector and connoisseur Richard Payne Knight, the year of her marriage to Sir William Hamilton.

Laurence was a leading figure in the campaign to secure the Elgin Marbles for the British Museum, although his friend Payne Knight believed them to be Roman copies from the time of Hadrian. Payne Knight's own collection was one of the most significant early bequests to The British Museum. It included a substantial number of prints and drawings; among others, this portrait, watercolours by John Robret Cozens and 273 glorious drawings by Claude Lorrain.

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More information


K. J. Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence-1 (Oxford, 1989)

I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir Willi (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)


Height: 199.000 mm
Width: 150.000 mm

Museum number

PD Oo-5-22


Bequeathed by R. Payne Knight


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