Literature, #198


  198.  Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830).  Portait of George Gordon, Lord Byron. Oil on canvas mounted on composition board, (29.8 x 25.4 cm.) -- Office of Art Properties (See fuller description below.)
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Sir Thomas Lawrence was one of the finest portrait painters of his generation in Europe and the last English inheritor of the legacy of van Dyck. The dress and accessories of Lawrence's sitters were chosen, as were his settings, with particular regard to the age and concerns of the sitter. Lawrence himself dictated the colour and texture of the material and he responded to the challenge of depicting it with an enthusiasm rarely found among earlier English portrait painters, such as Reynolds, who delegated such chores to drapery painters. In this portrait of Lord Byron (1788-1824), the poet is shown in his dashing youth, capable of swimming the Hellespont (today the Dardanelles), as he did in 1810.

The painting is one of more than sixty portraits of English authors given to Columbia by Dr. Calvin H. Plimpton, who had been president of Amherst College and of the American University of Beirut. The collection had been assembled by his father, George Arthur Plimpton, the noted publisher of text books. Both father and son delighted in quizzing visitors about the identity of the sitters. Dr. Plimpton remarked that having a "visual impression...of these authors...increases our enjoyment and even understanding of their writings."