Like Reynolds and Romney before him, Lawrence preferred the "higher" genre of history painting but, through talent and necessity, became a portraitist. He was enormously successful in his own lifetime, was knighted in 1815, and elected president of the Royal Academy in 1820.
Although unschooled, Lawrence had a great natural gift for fluent linear rhythms and for the dramatic uses of light and color. Composed, gentle, and serene, Lady Templetown is a woodland goddess of otherworldly proportions. The purity and simplicity of the sitters' costumes draw the pair into a sympathetic unity that is further enhanced by the surrounding darker tones of the broadly rendered landscape. Lawrence animated the paint surface with accents of vibrant red in Lady Templetown's earrings and necklace, her son's cheeks, and in the landscape.
Lawrence's idealized presentation of his sitters in an expressive, theatrical landscape epitomizes the romantic style of portraiture. But Lawrence, like Reynolds, was also a passionate student of the classical past. His ideas on beauty were adapted from Aristotle's Poetics. He participated in the project that brought the Parthenon sculptures -- the Elgin marbles -- to England and owned a vast collection of old master prints.
Painted for the sitter's husband, John, 2nd baron (later 1st viscount) Templetown [1771-1846], Castle Upton, County Antrim; by descent to Henry, 4th viscount Templetown [1853-1939], Castle Upton; acquired c. 1890 by Baron Alfred Charles de Rothschild [1842-1918], London; by inheritance to his illegitimate daughter, Almina Victoria, Countess of Carnarvon [c. 1877-1969], London; purchased 1923 by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); sold June 1923 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1802, no. 5, as Portrait of Lady Templeton.
- Sir Thomas Lawrence 1769-1830, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1979-1980, no. 17, repro.
- Farington Diary, 5: 1759 (21 March 1802), 1773 (3 May 1802) and 6:2291 (7 April 1804).
- Monthly Mirror, 13 May 1802: 310.
- Morning Chronicle, 3 May 1802.
- True Briton, 3 May 1802, 2 June 1802.
- Armstrong, Sir Walter, Lawrence. London, 1913: 166.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 104, no. 96, as Lady Templeton and Her Son.
- Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 241, repro. 16, as Lady Templeton and Her Son.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 120, repro.
- Garlick, Kenneth. Sir Thomas Lawrence. London, 1954: 60, pl. 48.
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. British Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Eight in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 22, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 320, repro., as Lady Templetown and Her Son.
- Garlick, Kenneth. "A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence." Walpole Society 39 (1964): 185, 306.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 73, as Lady Templetown and Her Son.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 64, repro., as Lady Templetown and Her Son.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 190, repro.,as Lady Templetown and Her Son.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: no. 531, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 368, no. 517, color repro., as Lady Templetown and Her Son.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 222, repro.
- Garlick, Kenneth. Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Complete Catalogue of the Oil Paintings. Oxford, 1989: no. 760, repro.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 89, color repro.
- Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 156-158, repro. 157.
- National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 154, repro.
- Adler, Shane. “Whiteness." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:939.
The medium-weight canvas is twill woven; it has been lined, but the tacking margins survive intact. The present stretcher is presumably larger than the original stretcher as there is an eighth of an inch of unpainted canvas visible along the top and right edges. The ground is slightly off-white, thinly applied. The painting is executed both thinly and thickly, with impasto especially evident in the whites; Lady Mary's gown and veil are broadly handled, but more worked than the background, with the shadows painted both under and over the white; much of the foliage is quickly and drily painted. The heads have been heavily reworked by the artist, and the smooth paint in these passages masks the prominent weave of the canvas. Lady Mary's right arm has been repositioned, as has the ribbon on her cap. The paint is abraded in places, and some of the impasto has been slightly flattened during lining. There is a prominent craquelure and discolored though not extensive retouching, especially disfiguring in the child's dress. The natural resin varnish has discolored to a moderate degree.