Thursday, July 30, 2009

NPG's Newest Aquisition

Reader, Judy clued me in today about a very important Thomas Lawrence acquisition to the National Portrait Gallery that might be of great interest to you. This fine gent is John Philip Kemble, leading actor of Drury Lane and brother of leading actress, Sarah Siddons. It was reported that Kemble portrayed a better Macbeth than Garrick himself (the drawing of Kemble as Macbeth is also by Lawrence)! But one of the roles he was best known for was as Cato from the tragedy by the same name by Joseph Addison.

In this full portrait that is about eight feet high we see Kemble in a portrait that is a worthy compliment to the depiction of his sister in Reynold's Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse. Lawrence's long dramatic stroke coheres to form a perfect logic. Kemble is the perfect example of a roman citizen, complete with Caesar hairstyle and toga. He is caught in a pensive moment in the middle of reviewing plans. His expression required both the skills of its actor-sitter and the artist to successfully produce on canvas.

As this article from the Guardian says, the NPG was able to purchase the painting with the help of a grant, from Heath House. It will now reach a larger audience in its new home in London (for a cheaper admission too, I bet!).


  1. The portrait does make a perfect companion piece to Sarah as Tragic Muse!! I wondered why this little known portrait had a ring of familiarity to it. Thanks, Heather, for pointing this out.

  2. Thank YOU for pointing the acquisition out!

  3. A lovely portrait, and he sure has the Kemble nose, doesn't he? I wonder if Lawrence disliked painting it as much as Gainsborough did with Sarah's?

  4. Oh, I do love a gent in a toga.