Lawrence and Rembrandt
A Seated Man with a Stick once formed part of the vast collection amassed by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Lawrence was one of the most sought-after portraitists of his day, renowned for his virtuosic technique and skill at capturing a sitter’s likeness. He was also a compulsive collector.
Lawrence built an unrivalled collection of Old Master paintings, prints, and drawings. He had the advantage of collecting at a time when the market was flooded with works from European private collections in the wake of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The inventory drawn up at his death listed as many as 5,000 items; but his excessive spending left him in debt for much of his life.
Lawrence would have valued this painting highly, believing it to be an autograph work by Rembrandt, an artist he greatly esteemed. He was perhaps attracted to its pronounced lighting and astute characterisation of the old man, which resonated with Lawrence’s own portrait of an aging sitter: his friend and patron, the banker John Julius Angerstein, who was over eighty. Lawrence advised Angerstein on his acquisition of Old Master paintings, and when Angerstein died, 38 of his works were purchased by the British government in order to establish a national art collection.
As for 'A Seated Man with Stick', this was sold by Lawrence to another eminent collector, Sir George Beaumont, who gave his collection of Old Master paintings to the British government on the condition that a National Gallery was created. Along with Angerstein’s works, they formed the nucleus of the Gallery’s collection.