Mr. and Mrs. Angerstein stand on a terrace from which one sees the trees of the garden with, at bottom, an escape on the campaign. Mrs. Angerstein sits in a rattan chair: her fine face, whose beauty is famous in England, is crowned with a light-colored turban, from which escape the curls of an ash-haired hair. Her dress is made of white linen, almost vaporous, crossed on the chest in the shape of a shawl, according to the fashion of the time. A red belt squeezes its waist; on his lap is carelessly thrown a scarf of black gauze whose end hangs to the ground. Next to her, and a little behind, Mr. Angerstein stands with his left hand leaning against the back of the chair. On the whiteness of his high tie and his casimir waistcoat, his red coat, buttoned in English, makes a bright spot; he wears velvet breeches, white stockings and buckled shoes. The right leg is slightly carried forward.
Lawrence had painted several times the various members of the Angerstein family, first a delicious profile of Mrs. Angerstein with her blond hair ruffled on her thin head, then Mr. Angerstein alone, solid and still elegant despite the invasion of overweight and finally the beautiful portrait that we have just described.
To go through Lawrence’s work is to show all the illustrious or important figures of England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His extraordinary skill earned him early favors from the king and the court. At the age when others are still studying, he is already famous; at the age of twenty-two, he was awarded associate member of the Academy of Painting and became permanent two years later. In 1792, Reynolds’ death left him the only representative of portraiture in England; he recollects his official succession and becomes an ordinary portraitist of the king. All that London counts as eminent is to be painted by him; the biggest ladies of the United Kingdom parade in her studio. The son of the poor innkeeper of Bristol is full of honors, his paintings are sold at a high price; a royal ordinance ennobles him and creates him a baronet.
His fame has crossed the strait; he enjoys a European reputation. In 1815, when the Waterloo disaster made confidence in terrified Europe, the Regent sent Lawrence to the continent to portray all the characters, diplomats or generals, who contributed the most to the fall of Napoleon. Lawrence goes to Aachen, where the European Congress is sitting. From there, he goes to Rome to paint Pius VII, the illustrious pontiff who was the prisoner of the conqueror. He remained in Italy for several years, and the same day he returned to London in 1820, he was appointed president of the Royal Academy of Painting.
With the passage of time, Lawrence’s astonishing fortune seems to have exceeded the true value of the painter. We can not refrain from comparing it to Reynolds, and this parallel, it must be confessed, is not to Lawrence’s advantage. He does not have the powerful Reynolds bill or his firm design. Perhaps because of its facility, which was prodigious, its composition lacked vigor, its color of solidity. Influenced, no doubt, by the manner of Boucher, still exaggerated by his disciples and imitators, he frequently falls into affectation and insipidity.
Nevertheless, he remains a painter of great value, the greatest fault of which was to be too well endowed and not to have sufficiently defied his facility. None of his portraits are mediocre; this prodigious talent waster sometimes had flashes of genius: many of his paintings are masterpieces.
Although overrated, Lawrence has not known the discredit of some painters, much too admired in their lifetime and handed down by posterity in a place more in line with their real talent. It is because it possesses qualities of the first order and which are of all times. He remains as the model painter of patrician elegance. He will always charm and seduce by his finesse, his refinement of distinction, the lightness of the touch, the subtlety of tone, the expressive and spiritual grace of physiognomies and attitudes. Like Nattier and Tocqué in France, he makes us love this charming period of the late eighteenth century which he seems to have complaisently highlighted the delicate elegance and precious beauty. We must not hesitate to classify him, in spite of his few faults, among the masters of the English school.
The portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Angerstein is among the best of the great artist and the Louvre is honored to possess it. He appears in the large gallery, in the bay of English painting.
Height: 2.24 – Width: 1.58 – Figure in foot, life size.