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Portrait Of The Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst By Thomas Lawrence: A Portrayal Of The Symbol Of Feminism

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Over the years, artists have used various mediums to portray the symbol of feminism. The purpose of this essay is to perform an analysis of an artwork with a woman represented as a focal point. For this essay, I will be analyzing British Artist Sir Thomas Lawrence’s painting Portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst.

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The painting, currently located at The Dallas Museum of Art represents Julia Hankey, the wealthy widow of Lt. Honorable Thomas Seymour Bathurst. To demonstrate the representation of feminism, I will perform a formal, stylistic and conceptual analysis of the portrait. Lawrence uses a variety of elements and principles of art to create a classical, sophisticated and timeless style. The image is brightly lit in contrast to the dark background. This makes the woman a strong point of emphasis, drawing attention to her features. The artist uses bright colors for her face, outfit and accessories to show vibrancy, youth and liveliness. The artwork is also made up of geometric and organic shapes majorly used for her jewelry. These shapes are used to emphasize her accessories, a sign of sophistication and wealth.

The artist uses implied texture on the dress to give a feeling of volume and motion. Texture is also implied in the background of the image with the use of dark shades and faint patterns. The flower beside her right hand is used to create variety. It is the only item in the portrait asides Julia Hankey who is the focus of the image. Lawrence uses scale to depict the size of the woman in comparison to another object. The scale can be seen by comparing the human size of the woman to the rose beside her. Lines are used to emphasize the strong features of her face, lively eyes with her lips slightly parted to illustrate a playful and friendly nature. The artist also uses the white gown and a single rose placed beside her arm to depict the upcoming wedding ceremony.

Known for his unique style, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) was a master of elegant, society portraits. The artwork was created during the Victorian era which experienced a movement from the “pomp and grandeur of the previous years to more complex and emotional artistic expressions”. This period also saw a huge emergence of classical and renaissance motifs. Lawrence style of art was strictly portraiture incorporating the naturalness from the era. Unlike the era, Lawrence portrayed his art without the “conventional props of column and curtain”. His works are known for their romance, dashing, impressive scene of nature, accentuating clear cut lines, giving an impression of intelligence and vigor, vivid and dramatic styles. He painted several monarchs, statesmen, and generals in London and was highly requested during his days. His strength as a painter was based upon his confidence in his largely untutored powers as a draughtsman. Taking from the artistic nature associated with the era, Lawrence “infused his characterizations with life and sensibility”. As seen in Portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst, the dress and accessories of his sitters were chosen with special attention to detail, background, age and other relevant concerns. After the Napoleonic wars, and their immediate aftermath, artists used their artwork to illustrate the aftermath of the war. Most of the artworks during this period illustrated strength, bravery and victory. These themes were the inspiration behind some of the best work of Lawrence’s later years.

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s painting Portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst reflects history, religion and the biography of the 19th century era. The artwork was made in Britain during the early 19th century. The early 19th century, also referred to as the Victorian era was characterized by major changes and developments in all aspects of the society. These changes eventually led to the economic depression “an age that began with a confidence and optimism leading to economic boom and prosperity eventually gave way to uncertainty and doubt regarding Britain’s place in the world”. Generally, families in the nineteenth century families were large and marriage was celebrated. Lawrence’s portrait was originally intended as a wedding gift to the newly wed couple. However, due to the attention, detail and time put into the portrait, it was delivered a year after the wedding ceremony. The artwork reflects an era that encouraged hard work, respectability, social deference and religious conformity. During the period, women were represented as either “Madonnas or whores, yet increasing educational and employment opportunities gave many a role outside the family”. Lawrence highlights the status of Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst by depicting her in expensive attire and also flaunting a wedding ring. Shepherd writes on the importance of politics during the era: “politics were important to the Victorians; they believed in the perfection of their evolved representative government, and in exporting it throughout the British Empire. This age saw the birth and spread of political movements, most notably socialism, liberalism and organised feminism”.

One major occurrence during the era of the portrait was geographical exploration, this led to the “opening up of Africa and Asia to the West, yet were troubled by the intractable Irish situation and humiliated by the failures of the Boer War”. During the era, there was a huge expansion in the entertainment, travel and leisure industry. Artists took advantage of this period by generating more exposure for their craft. There were more art shows, galleries and training schools during this period. Shepherd writes about other occurrences during the era of Lawrence’s artwork: “Increasing literacy stimulated growth in popular journalism and the ascendancy of the novel as the most powerful popular icon. The progress of scientific thought led to significant changes in medicine during the nineteenth century, with increased specialization and developments in surgery and hospital building. There were notable medical breakthroughs in anesthetics – famously publicized by Queen Victoria taking chloroform for the birth of her son in 1853 – and in antiseptics, pioneered by Joseph” Lister (1827-1912). The public’s faith in institutions was evident not only in the growth of hospitals but was also seen in the erection of specialized workhouses and asylums for the most vulnerable members of society”.

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s painting Portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst is visually and intellectually pleasing to me, I am especially drawn to the natural expression and simplicity of the portrait. The artwork gives a sense of sophistication, confidence and wealth that is very appealing. I also like the facial structure of Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst, she is represented as a sharp, well refined and elegant woman. Her expression seems to depict sadness although dressed quite lavishly and that was the main thing that drew me to this portrait. I was quite curious to know more about her and I was eager to perform an analysis on the portrait. Although I personally liked the portrait, I did not think that it was a good choice for this essay because of its simplicity. I believed a suitable image would be more complex with many components in it. Through research I have come to like the portrait even more, the complexity of it lies in its simplicity. Honorable Mrs. Seymour Bathurst, the focal point of the portrait was also a very prominent figure in the 19th century even after her husband’s death. She is strong, charismatic and a strong believer of education. She was deeply involved in education and religion which led to her creating Valley End School and St. Saviours church. Altogether, I completely agree with the information included in the contextual analysis as it is supported by credible research.

15 July 2020

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