Yesterday I popped into town to catch up with two exhibitions: Threads of Feeling at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury; and Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery.
The former has already been beautifully covered by Emily, here, so I shan’t dwell on it overmuch. I would just say that this was my first visit to the Foundling Museum and like Sir John Soane’s Museum, it is one of the lesser-known treasures of our city. If you haven’t been, do yourself a big favour and go. The walls are dripping with paintings, the rooms are lovely and apart from the deeply interesting stuff on foundlings, orphans and social history from mid 18C, there is plenty to learn about Hogarth, Handel and the institution’s founder, Captain Thomas Coram. Being a big fan of William Hogarth, I was delighted to catch up at last with his March of the Guards to Finchley. There is also a fine Hogarth portrait of Captain Coram himself.
An extra bonus was that an 18C style quartet were practising. Old piano-like thing (spinet, harpsichord?), cello, violin and what appeared to be a giant recorder. You must excuse my ignorance of old classical instruments. But it was lovely.
On to the National Portrait Gallery. The new Thomas Lawrence show has already been widely praised in the press, and rightly so. The minute you walk in, your are struck by the man’s effortless talent. The exhibition features about sixty portraits of the great, if not the good, of Britain and Europe, from the 1790s through to the 1820s. One cannot imagine a single subject being less than delighted with Lawrence’s efforts. Obviously idealised, the works are executed beautifully, Lawrence skillfully capturing the essence of his sitters. The women are all slightly haughty, beautiful, knowing, with stunning hair-dos. The men all appear as they would like to see themselves: powerful, confident and wise. What is particularly striking are the clothes and jewellery and how masterfully Lawrence did them. The fur, the leather, the embroidered silks, showing their wearers to be dripping in wealth at the pinnacle of the social scale. Such a contrast if you’ve just come from the Foundling Museum.
Some of the pictures were incomplete and you can see Lawrence’s effortless prepatory lines on the bare unpainted canvas; others were simply drawings in black, red and white charcoal: understated by comparison with the big oils, they are none the less delightful for that. I have two favourites. Mrs Manners, an aristocratic old dear, seated. You do not want to get on the wrong side of her. And Pope Pius VII. This is one of the few Lawrences, where the subject looks vulnerable, but it is magnificent and easily rates alongside Velazquez’ Innocent X (my all-time fave) and Raphael’s Julius II.