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Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

Charles William, Baron von Humboldt (1767-1835) before 8 Jun 1835

Oil on canvas | 133.0 x 105.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 404936

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Lawrence was the most fashionable and also the greatest portraitist of his generation. He was made Principal Painter to George III in 1792 after Reynolds’s death, and received occasional commissions; however it was only after 1814 that George IV began to employ him in earnest. This portrait was commissioned by George IV and was painted when in England in 1828; only the head was completed at Lawrence’s death which is why his executors were paid only half the usual sum for such a work – 150 instead of 300 guineas. The painting was completed by Richard Evans. The portrait seems to have always been intended for what became the 'Waterloo Chamber' and acknowledges the sitter’s role as the Prussian representative at the Congress of Vienna. Unlike the other portraits in this series Humboldt wears no orders and has a more intellectual and pensive than diplomatic or courtly. By the time it was painted he had given up political life deploring Prussia’s reactionary policies. His contribution came in other fields: a linguist, political philosopher, inventor of the German education system, founder of the University of Berlin. Humboldt was also the elder brother of the even more famous naturalist and a friend of Goethe and Schiller. The Waterloo Chamber is a great hall on the public route at Windsor Castle displaying portraits of those soldiers, sovereigns and diplomats responsible for the overthrow of Napoleon and the re-establishment of the monarchies and states of Europe thereafter. The concept began in 1814 when George IV used the opportunity of the Treaty of London to commission Lawrence to paint distinguished visitors. The group of portraits grew during the next decade as Lawrence continued to obtain portrait sittings at the various congresses following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and, in some cases, by making special journeys. Most of the twenty eight portraits were delivered after his death on 7 January 1830. By this time work was already begun of the space of the Waterloo Chamber created by covering a courtyard at Windsor Castle with a huge sky-lit vault; the room was completed during the reign of William IV (1830-7). The first illustration of the interior is provided by Joseph Nash (1809-78) in 1844 (RCIN 919785) and shows the arrangement which survives to this day: full-length portraits of warriors hang high, over the two end balconies and around the walls; at ground level full-length portraits of monarchs alternate with half-lengths of diplomats and statesmen.