This year the Museum celebrates its centenary a 100 Years Here with a series of exhibitions. One is quite delightful, featuring rarely seen 18th century portraits in pastel. Pastel is a mixture of china clay, plaster and pigment which are rolled into sticks. However it is fragile and can deteriorate quite easily. Indeed Thomas Lawrence wrote on the back of one of his pastels ‘to be kept from the Damp &sun/and must not be shook.’
Be that as it may the effect of pastel when applied to paper is quite luminous especially for portraits as the examples here amply show. It became a medium adopted by British artists for about a hundred years from the 1730s. Unlike portraits in oils pastels required no time for drying so Bath painters such as William Hoare and a young Thomas Lawrence often used it when depicting short-term visitors to the city.
It is particularly right and fitting that the Holburne Museum should have been able to raise the funds (£450,000) for this preparatory oil sketch of Arthur Atherley by Thomas Lawrence since the painter lived and worked in Bath between 1780-87. Some five years later he exhibited a three-quarter length portrait of Atherley, for which this is the sketch, at the Royal Academy. The sitter was nineteen and the artist twenty-two. From January 28th the picture will hang in the Museum’s Brownsword Picture Gallery which is devoted to great 18th century British portrait painters, especially those connected with Bath.
The Museum’s Director Jennifer Scott aptly sums it up: ‘This is a fantastic achievement for the Holburne. We are immensely grateful to the Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and to Arts Council England/Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund for their crucial grants and invaluable support for this campaign. The response from our visitors, Friends, patrons and supporters at all levels has been overwhelming, enabling us to raise this large amount in a short time period. It is a reflection of both the quality of the painting itself, and the relevance of an outstanding early Lawrence portrait coming to the South West. We are also very grateful to Lowell Libson Ltd for giving us the opportunity to acquire this painting on a favourable basis. We can now implement an exciting l earning, interpretation and community engagement programme inspired by this compelling portrait – a fresh face for the Museum’s 2016 celebrations marking 100 Years Here.