Sir Thomas Lawrence
- Pencil, red crayon and watercolour
- 7 ⅜ × 4 ½ inches · 188 × 114 mm
- Signed with initials, lower left
- Private collection, France.
This particularly charming drawing is a portrait study of the young Jane Allnutt. Born in 1818, Jane was the youngest child of John Allnutt (1773-1863) and his second wife Eleanor Brandram (1789-1866). The Allnutt family had amassed a substantial fortune in the wine trade throughout the eighteenth century and John Allnutt, a friend and considerable patron of artists including Lawrence, Constable and Turner, spent much of his wealth on his collection. Allnutt was one of a new breed of prosperous merchants who became collectors and patrons, although he very much adhered to the traditional aristocratic method of furnishing a number of fine houses with pictures with the intention of bequeathing them to his children. Indeed, a label signed by Allnutt on the back of Turner’s The Devil’s Bridge, St Gothard, c. 1803-4 (private collection) records that it was presented ‘to my daughter Jane’.
Jane and her sister grew up in a large family house in Clapham, then a rural spot on the outskirts of south London. They were joined in the early 1840s by their stepbrother’s young daughter, Anna, later Lady Brassey (1839-1887), the renowned travel writer and photographer.
On 22 May 1845 Jane married Henry Carr (1817-1888) at Holy Trinity Church on Clapham Common. The occasion was celebrated in a group portrait by David Cox Jr, The Wedding Breakfast (private collection). Henry Carr subsequently enlisted Cox’s help in arranging the posthumous sale of John Allnutt’s collection at Christie’s on 20 June 1863. Little further is recorded concerning Jane and she may have died early in her marriage.
There is a small unfinished painting of the head of Jane Allnutt of the same date, circa 1825, in the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, which casts significant light on Lawrence’s method and patronage. It the Huntington picture he carefully painted the face and hair with vigorous brushstrokes, but evidently intended to enhance the portrait further through strong contrasts of light and shadow, bringing up the left side of the picture, while casting a shadow on the right. Another unfinished oil portrait, slightly larger in size (present whereabouts unknown) was started some months after the Huntington picture in which the pose is the same, with Jane’s head slightly tilted to her right. This was possibly at the request of John Allnutt, whose generosity toward the artist called for special treatment as Allnutt helped Lawrence during his constant financial struggles, brought on largely as a result of the cost of building his remarkable collection of old master drawings. £5,000 was repaid to Allnutt by the executors after Lawrence’s death. When Lawrence died in 1830 both versions of the portrait were incomplete. The Huntington picture was presumably dispersed along with other unclaimed canvases; however, John Allnutt did put in a claim for the later version, which was then described as "Head nearly finished." Allnutt evidently wished to preserve the portrait in its unfinished state as the work of Lawrence’s own hand, rather than with additions by his assistants.
The portrait of Jane, his youngest child, was the last of many paintings Allnutt commissioned from Lawrence. Soon after marrying Elizabeth Garthwaite, his first wife, in 1796, he commissioned Lawrence to paint them both in a pair of full-length portraits of 1797-98, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1799 (private collection). In about 1803, his wife’s portrait was altered to include the figure of their daughter Anna, born 1801. Elizabeth Allnutt died in 1810, and when he remarried five years later, Allnutt commissioned Lawrence to paint a bust length portrait of his second wife, Eleanor Brandram; a far less ambitious picture than those painted for his first marriage.
The present drawing shows Jane full-length with her head also slightly tilted to her right and her arm extended, resting on the back of a chair, her left arm behind her back. She stands firmly on her left foot with right leg crossed over, her foot pointed and delicately resting on her toes. Wearing a simple high-waisted dress, the dashes of colour added for her sparkling blue eyes, ruby lips and hint of brown in her hair animate the young sitter with a vivacity and charm so characteristic of Lawrence’s adept drawing style. Lawrence was particularly skilled at capturing the innocence of childhood, and as a family friend he had known Jane since birth so naturally she appears quite at ease and composed.