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."