Thomas Lawrence

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Mr (later Sir) Thomas Lawrence rose from humble beginnings to become the first portrait painter of the age. In 1814 Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell together sat for their portrait to him. Mr Norrell made a nervous and fidgetty sitter, and Lawrence was at a loss to discover what so disturbed him until enlightened by Mr Strange - it was Mr Norrell's continuing anxiety about the safety of his books (the portrait was being painted in the library of Mr Norrell's house in London). A full account of this amusing episode is in Recollections of Sir Thomas Lawrence during an intimacy of nearly thirty years by Miss Croft[35].

The fate of the portrait itself is unknown however as it was removed from its place in Mr Norrell's library after his breach with Strange. Apparently no copies were thought to have existed.

However, after years of extensive research and the permanent browsing of auction houses, flea markets and antique shops, a breakthrough did occur.

In August 2013, practical magician Van Helmont found a remarkable miniature framed portrait of a blue eyed gentleman, mounted in a black wooden rectangular shaped frame which measures approximately 12.2 cm (4&4/5 inches) top to bottom (without measuring the ringlet & leafy acorn finial, x 10.1 cm (4 inches) wide side to side.
The oval shaped painting is on a very thin white piece, and is held in the frame with a layer of paper and a heavy cotton backing. The painting measures approximately 6.1 cm (2&9/10 inches) top to bottom x 4.7 cm (1&7/8 inches) wide.

The painting has a signature along the right hand side edge with the front letters (Thf or ThS) difficult to read as they appear to have been clipped back to fit the frame.

Written on the back is “Ionathas Alienis et Gileb...” with the last name cut off in the middle of what seems to have been a larger picture.

From the way the portrait is cut and mounted, it can indeed be deducted that it was, originally, a double portrait, with Mr Norrell seated on the left.

It was, at first, my belief that we were dealing, if not with the very portrait painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence of Jonathan Strange, then at the very least a preliminary study of it.

But a distinguished colleague pointed out another, and with hindsight much more realistic, theory. Strange had it (i.e. this portrait) done as a keepsake for his wife, just before he took off for the Peninsula. A last-minute gift by a whimsical man.

Jonathan Strange.jpg

Jonathan Strange, 1814, London, aged about 35.





Today (25th October 2013) I received a message from a fellow practical magician and close friend living in Leeds.
It read:

“Dear VH, don't know if you're still researching JS&MN, but I found a most fascinating miniature portrait at (a rather well known local art dealer). It says ‘Gilebertus Nørrelund’ and is dated 1814. Thinking you might be interested, I went ahead and bought it. Be sending it next week! Cheerio, Mike! P.S.: took a pic: what do you think?”

Mr Norrell.jpg

Gilebertus Nørrelund, 1814, London, about 54 years of age.


What to think? It looks very much like the Strange portrait, though cleaner. But it's not so much the portrait in itself I'm excited about: it's the name, Nørrelund!

I still need to delve into this of course, but preliminary research (ok, Google) locates the name in Denmark! Could it be that the Yorkshire magician was of Danish descent?

We know that the history of Yorkshire is full of Danish invasions, warlords and kings. So the hypothesis isn't that far-fetched.

Secondary research confirms that Nørrelund is indeed a Danish surname. Church records from the early 1800s list several Nørrelunds in Denmark.

For further information on Sir Thomas Lawrence consult the wikipedia article available here .