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From Lely To Lawrence: The Artist As Collector Of Drawings.

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From Lely to Lawrence: The Artist as Collector of Drawings.

Artists have always collected drawings, from the 16th century, Giorgio Vasari was one of the first collectors of drawings, though he is best known today as the author of the Lives of the Artists. As a collector, his Libro de' Disegni represented one of the first systematic and extensive collections of drawings to be made. What were the common links of the collectors and the tastes of 17th and 18th century artists and collectors? The extraordinary common link between Sir Peter Lely; Prosper Henry Lankrink; Jonathan Richardson Senior; Jonathan Richardson Junior; Thomas Hudson and Sir Joshua Reynolds is that they all collected drawings voraciously. Frits Lugt 1921 and 1956 Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d'Estampes is an invaluable source of information on this subject.  

Sir Peter Lely, born in Holland, came to England in 1641. Lely was influenced by Anthony van Dyck, after the latter's death Lely became the king's favorite portraitist however Lely's reputation as a painter of landscapes and mythological scenes in the manner of Van Dyck ensured his reputation. Even after the execution of Charles I Lely continued to paint and painted the famous ‘warts and all' portrait of Cromwell, here is Cromwell giving Lely instructions on the painting

I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all the roughness, pimples, warts and everything, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.

Lely continued to be patronized under Charles II and was Knighted in 1679. Lely took advantage of the dispersal of the two finest collections that England has ever known, those of the Earl of Arundel and Charles I. His extraordinary collecting zeal was mirrored 150 years later by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Both managed to gather the greatest collection of drawings, and both died loaded with debts caused by their collecting habits. On the death of Sir Peter Lely his executors tried to sell the art collection via a lottery to cover his debts of £3,000 and his legacies of £5,500. But this attempt failed, his executor, Roger North, proceeded to auction the contents of the deceased in Covent Garden. 

Prosper Henry Lankrink, the son of a German soldier of fortune, went to England and soon found wealthy patrons. He flourished in England paintings mainly decorative pictures. Peter Lely, after the death of van Dyck, employed Lankrink. Lely being the most passionate collector at this time inspired Lankrink. Lankrink took advantage of the auctions after the death of Lely, in 1682 and 1688. However, as a common thread throughout this period, he could not pay for his many purchases, so he borrowed money from a Mr. Austen. Lankrink never managed to break free of this debt, and after his death, his collection was seized at the request of Mr Austen and sold. 

Jonathan Richardson Senior was a successful portrait painter. Father and son did work together on producing a book on art.

As collectors, Richardson connecting the seventeenth century, the era of Lely in the eighteenth century, the period of Reynolds. During his lifetime some of the great collections were dispersed: Lely, Lankrink, Lord Somers, Talman, Gautier, there were exciting opportunities which Richardson enjoyed. His sure eye enabled him to triumph over these competitors, they were often richer. Richardson inherited his collecting skill from his master, John Riley, who died in 1691, and he had married Riley's niece. He assisted other collectors including Lord Somers, the Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Pembroke.

Jonathan Richardson the younger, only son of Jonathan Richardson the elder, was of more modest talents than his father. He distinguished himself more as a connoisseur and was largely in literary and criticisms. He knew how to assemble a large collection of drawings, but it does not appear to have been equal to that formed by the father. 

Thomas Hudson was a painter of portraits in London. He was a pupil, and at the same time as the step-son of Jonathan Richardson Senior. Hudson was an enthusiastic collector of prints and drawings. It forms the link between Richardson and Reynolds. Reynolds was a student of Thomas Hudson, he had close links with Jonathan Richardson Senior, and at the posthumous sale of which Reynolds did not fail to buy plenty of drawings. The detailed income he received for his work as a fashionable portrait painter, went largely on purchases, the beautiful pictures he was looking for as much as the drawings were devouring more than £20,000. Around 1790 he offered his collection of paintings at the Royal Academy in London at a price far below its value. His proposal was not accepted.  As the auction of his drawings the sheets were stamped with a mark, which was made by the executors. They marked the best drawings on the front, there were 1163 lots, which was assigned a value of 10s. and above, and 342 were assessed at lower prices, these were stamped on the verso of the drawing or the mount.

Finally ending with Sir Thomas Lawrence, perhaps the most famous of the collectors of the period. At the age of 18 Lawrence went to London and was well received by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and became a student at the Royal Academy. In 1792, on the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Lawrence was made principal painter to King George III. Lawrence was knighted in 1815 and became president of the Royal Academy five years later. His later works consist mainly of portraits of politicians and figures of state. After the death of Reynolds and Gainsborough, Lawrence became the uncontested master of portraiture. His work reached beyond the confines of Britain to become quite fashionable in continental Europe. Lawrence, who asked for his portraits, according to their importance, from £200 to £1,500. Had a lot of money, but he also knew to spend.

Lawrence's high spending was almost entirely devoted to collecting drawings and prints and is thought to have spent £40,000. When he died he had debts to the art dealer seller Samuel Woodburn (1786-1853), Woodburn was the leading art dealer of his time. Lawrence acquired en bloc, through Woodburn, at a cost of nearly £10,000, the superb collection of Italian drawings of William Young Ottley.

The result of this ceaseless activity as a collector was enormous, Lawrence managed to possess the greatest artists of the quantities drawings which no public or private collection can boast, and it is right that, in his will, he declares his unrivaled collection of drawings in Europe as quantity and value. Lawrence had stipulated that after his death his collection was to be priced at £18,000, very reasonable sum for that time, first at King George IV, then the trustees of the British Museum, then to Sir Robert Peel and finally Lord Dudley. All these people declined the offer. The price would then be increased to £20,000 pounds, a sum representing only half the cost. Then there was organized a national subscription in order to offer the collection at the National Gallery, but without result, despite an initial contribution of £1000 from the Royal Academy. 

The executor finally resolved in 1835 to sell the collection to the dealer Woodburn, the main creditors of the painter, for £16,000. It was only then that the drawings were marked by the care of the executors and Woodburn. They tried in vain to start new negotiations with some public institutions. They organized in different parts of the collection, first two exhibitions at 209 Regent Street, and eight others at 112 St. Martin's.Lane, Charing Cross.  Included in these exhibitions was the famous Michelangelo at the Bristish Museum [see illustration]. This famous drawing was owned by Richardson Senior; Sir Joshua Reynolds; Willliam Young Otley and Sir Thomas Lawrence.