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Sir Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of the Hon. Emily Mary Lamb

Key facts
Full title Portrait of the Hon. Emily Mary Lamb (1787-1869), later Countess Cowper and Viscountess Palmerston
Artist Sir Thomas Lawrence
Artist dates 1769 - 1830
Date made 1803
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 45.7 × 50.8 cm
Acquisition credit Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the National Gallery, 2011
Inventory number NG6617
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of the Hon. Emily Mary Lamb
Sir Thomas Lawrence

Lawrence has depicted the 16-year old Emily Lamb as though in motion, her head turning back towards the viewer. The pose is one with a long tradition in the history of portraiture, but Lawrence has treated it with a freshness reflected in the informality and economy of his brushwork. He has captured the spirited young girl whom her brother William called ‘that little devil Emily’.

The painting was commissioned by Emily’s father, Peniston Lamb, 1st Earl Melbourne, who can also be seen with his wife in the National Gallery in Stubbs’s The Milbanke and Melbourne Families, of about 1769.

At 18 Emily married Peter Leopold Clavering-Cowper, 5th Earl Cowper, and went on to become an influential, politically prominent society hostess. Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was a regular guest at Emily’s parties and salons, and the pair became lovers. In 1837 Lord Cowper died, and Emily and Palmerston married on 16 December 1839. Lord Palmerston served twice as Prime Minister between 1855 and 1858 and again from 1859 to 1865.

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