Maria II, Queen of Portugal

Sir Thomas Lawrence (Bristol, 1769-London, 1830), and completed by a studio assistant?1829/1831

National Palace of Queluz

National Palace of Queluz
Queluz, Portugal

Sir Thomas Lawrence (and Studio?)
London, England, 1829-1831
Oil on canvas
91,5 x 71 cm

An outstanding live portrait of Maria II aged nine and painted on occasion of her stay in London between October 1828 and August 1829, during the reign of King George IV. As regards its composition, style and scale, this portrait, belonging to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (Lisbon) and on loan to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is practically identical to the portrait belonging to the British Royal Collections housed in Windsor Castle [1], a commission by George IV from Sir Thomas Lawrence. The painter received for this work the sum of 210 pounds, paid out on 9th September 1829 [2]. The frame for the British royal family's portrait also resulted from a commission, this time of the sculptor and gold-leaf specialist Edward Wyatt in 1830, the year of the posthumous retrospective for Lawrence and London's Royal Academy, where the painting went on public display [3]. Later, in 1833, the painting would again go on exhibition at the British institution.

The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, attributed in recent years to John Simpson, may represent a replica produced simultaneously by the painter (and with his workshop assistants) or by one of his most brilliant and experienced assistants John Simpson [4], who worked for the maestro as from around 1818. This hypothesis takes on still greater plausibility when taking into account the date of the Lawrence painting (1829), very close to the date of his own death (7th January 1830) as Simpson played a fundamental role in the commission's undertaken by the master in this final phase and to the extent of completing various works still unfinished at the time of his death [5]. Lawrence himself, already aged sixty, in a letter dated 17th August 1829 defines better the chronology surrounding the portrait of Maria II in writing the following: “(…) The Queen of Portugal gives me her last sitting today. When the picture is painted I shall send it to Mrs. Peel, for her inspection. (…) The Queen, de jure, of Portugal did not make a very excellent subject for a portrait, and her many coloured sash of knighthood but ill corresponded with the more sober taste in female dress, engendered, perhaps, by our gloomy atmosphere” [7]. Within this framework, we may affirm that the work, on display in Windsor Castle ever since the reign of George IV, was completed in the second half of August 1829. Furthermore, in the “Catalogue of the remaining pictures and unfinished sketches of Sir Thomas Lawrence…” (1831), the catalogue for the auction that took place in London on Saturday 18th June 1831 lists over 150 lots of the paintings and drawings by Lawrence including among which a finished replica of the portrait of Queen Maria II. This was lot number 98 and described as follows: “Ditto [Portrait] of the Queen of Portugal, a finished copy” and eventually the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga [8], which, should this be the case, would mean that this portrait, hitherto considered a copy by John Simpson, actually represents a replica by Lawrence probably with the support of his workshop assistants and perhaps of Simpson, which would also explain the traditional attribution. The atelier had a simple method of working with the master painting or sketching the face and the hands while the assistant(s) would compose the rest.
Manuscript notes to an auction sales catalogue provide information about the purchasers of the paintings and drawings with “C. Clinton” coming out on top in bidding for lot 98.

Another feasible scenario even while less consistent interrelates with the arrival of John Simpson in Portugal in 1834 in the service of Queen Maria II, now already an adolescent aged about 15. Simpson painted the portrait he signed and dated (John Simpson Pinx. 1834) that was in the Council of Pares, in São Bento (today the National Coach Museum), and went on exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1835. The portrait of the queen as a girl in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga might also have been produced in this period above all taking into account the close connection between Simpson and Sir Thomas Lawrence. While the formal bond between both portraits is clear, the Simpson painting in the National Coach Museum, with the queen now older, does not display the artistic qualities and refinement attained by Lawrence.

Of these two suppositions, given the information identified and the stylistic comparisons between both artists, the option that we are dealing with a replica of the Maria II portrait by Lawrence would seem more plausible, perhaps completed by one of his workshop assistants in around 1831. Within this line of thought, we should recall the fact put forward by Ernesto Soares and Henrique de Campos Ferreira Lima (“Dicionário de Iconografia Portuguesa. Retratos de portugueses e de estrangeiros em relações com Portugal”, 1948) through their reference to the inscription that accompanies the 1836 engraving by Joseph Brown, which reproduces the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga's painting: “MARIA II / ruling queen, first wife of Ferdinand II / copy of his portrait, painted in London in 1831, by Thomas Lawrence and belonging to King Luiz I”. The authors also refer to how “the plate today belongs to the painting restorer Mister Ribeiro who presented it with proof on cardboard. The original work exists in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, number 1603”.
The art historian and restorer João Couto – second director of the museum between 1938 and 1962 – in his article "British works of art in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga”, published in 1963 in the “Ocidente” journal based upon a speech given at the British Institute in 1949, considered that the Lisbon museum's portrait held the “qualities of freshness, grace, facility, transparency, elegance, which are appropriate to a work by Lawrence”, without accepting the attribution – proposed by John Steegman – of J. Simpson, whom he classes as a “secondary painter”.

Independent of the difficulty in ascertaining whether the Portuguese museum's portrait is by the hand of (totally or partially) of Thomas Lawrence or John Simpson, the similarities between both portraits are evident. The embellished face, with its clear tone, with rouge applied; the air of refinement and relaxed elegance; the delicate posture and attitude; the classical column and the armchair as the main features; the graduated landscape in the background; the vibrant colours of her attire and the fluid brush strokes are characteristics shared by both portraits. In any case, the contribution made by Lawrence to the portrait by Simpson is undeniable and especially in the fusion between the aulic traditions and the aristocratic style of Anton Van Dyck (1599-1641) and Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), whose compositional schemes experienced continuity whether with the painter of George IV or with his leading disciple.

On 21st September 1833, the London weeklies “The Court journal. Gazette of the fashionable world” and “The Spectator” advanced with news of the display of an engraving of the portrait by Maria da Glória, based on the work of Lawrence, and applying adjectives such as “exquisite”, “gem” or “embellishment”. This engraving, the work of Robert Graves (1798-1873), was one of the twelve illustrations destined to be enriched and published in the 1834 edition of “The Amulet. A Christian and Literary Remembrancer”, one of the most prominent literary of all the annuals published in this period and edited by Samuel Carter Hall.

In 1836, the editors Richard Hodgson and Henry Graves, “Printsellers to the King”, began their publication of “Engravings, from the Works of the Late Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.”. The portrait painter and engraver John Lucas (1807-1874) was one of the artists collaborating and the author of a new engraving of the Maria da Glória portrait on 12th April 1836, within the inscription “Donna Maria, Queen of Portugal”, integrated into the first set (Part I) of the three volumes on sale (16 prints). Robert Graves, author of the first known engraving of the portrait was brother to Henry Graves.

Also from 1836, according to Ernesto Soares and Henrique de Campos Ferreira Lima, is the Joseph Brown (active between 1833 and 1886) engraving, made in London based on a photograph of the portrait in Lisbon. A designer and engraver with a workshop in Forest Hill, Brown earned his reputation for his original engravings and his reproductions of renowned portraits. This engraving was one of the illustrations from the historical study “Queen of Portugal” (1878 and 1879), by Francisco da Fonseca Benevides. On 5th January 1886, to commemorate the death of King Ferdinand, “A Illustração. Revista de Portugal e do Brasil”, published by Mariano Pina, and edited and printed in Paris, included a good photographic reproduction of this copper engraving, explicitly indicating “a copy of a fine portrait painted by Thomas Lawrence (…) that featured only in (…) volume (…) entitled The Queens of Portugal”.

Already into the 20th century, on 29th May 1967, the issuing of a new plate is approved for 1000 Escudos note (plate 10 - effigy of Maria II), placed in circulation by the Bank of Portugal, an institution founded by the queen on 19th November 1846. The image chosen to feature on the front of the note was the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga portrait as a girl and thus becoming one of the best known “to Portuguese citizens at least through to 30th January 1987, the date when the note was taken out of circulation.
The choice of this queen was duly justified by the Bank as “Queen Maria II, a lady of high virtues, endowed with great energy and will and a broad vision of the political problems of the period was always venerated as a wife and mother of a family and even by her most ardent adversaries”.

Sir Thomas Lawrence (Bristol, 1769 – London, 1830) was the most renowned British portrait painter of his generation. Following the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1792, he was nominated painter to King George III. One year earlier he had been accepted into the Royal Academy and in 1815, the Prince Regent (the future George IV) awarded him the title of “Sir”. Regularly painting royal family portraits as from 1790, he swiftly became the painter of choice among high society. In 1820, following the ascent of George IV to the throne, Lawrence was elected president of the Royal Academy, a position he retained through to his death.
His skilful brush captured the effigies of the main leaders and monarchs of his lifetime with Richard Evans and John Simpson prominent among his students.

A painter who specialised in the portrait genre, he studied at the Royal Academy and was one of the most important of assistants to Sir Thomas Lawrence, actively assisting the master in various portraits in the final phase of his life and completing various portraits in the wake of his death. It is possible that he produced some of the commissions that requested copies of the portraits painted by Lawrence as is known to have been the case with Richard Evans, another of the painter's assistants.

Standing out among Simpson's works is “The Captive Slave”, a bold painting that went on display in the Royal Academy in 1827 and that expressed his position in favour of the abolition of slavery that despite being illegal in Britain was then still a reality in the colonies. This represented a highly controversial subject in the socio-political context of that period and the Royal Academy, above all when taking into account that the abolition of slavery in the colonies would only actually happen in 1833 through an act of parliament, the Slavery Abolition Act.

The model who sat for the painting was Ira Aldridge, then aged around twenty and a free-born Afro-American and the first Shakespearian actor of African descent to tread the stages of London and Europe and playing roles such as Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III and King Lear.

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[1] The canvas in the British royal collection measures 92.4 x 71.8 cm with the Lisbon canvas 91.5 x 71 cm.

[2] Information sourced from the list of portraits painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence on the orders of the King [George IV], in the “Privy Purse” by Sir William Knighton: “finished - (l) - A kit cat portrait of Her Majesty the Queen of Portugal (1829) - [£]210”. See Arthur Aspinall, “The Letters of King George IV. 1812-1830. Published by Authority of His Late Majesty George V”, vol. III, London, pp. 485-491.

[3] In the “Catalogue of the Works of Sir Thomas Lawrence, exhibited in the year 1830, immediately after his decease, at the British Institution”, the portrait is listed as being “Donna Maria Gloria–HIS MAJESTY”. This is piece number 52 out of a total of 91 works with references to the royal origins of their commissions. Included in the sample that went on exhibition in the Royal Academy of London, there were also the 21 portraits commissioned by King George IV for the Waterloo Gallery of Windsor Castle. See D. E. Williams, “The Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence…”, vol. I, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, London, 1831, pp. 469-473.

[4] The historian and art critic John Edward Horatio Steegman (1900-1965), in a letter dating to March 1943 addressed to the then Director of the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, João Couto, suggested the name of John Simpson as the artist responsible for the museum's portrait. See "Artes Plásticas - Obras de Arte Inglesa no National Museum of Ancient Art”, in Ocidente. Revista Portuguesa Mensal, no. 298, vol. LXIV, February 1963, pp. 118-131. This article was based on the speech he had given at the British Institute on 10th February 1949.
This was the first time that a specialist – in this case a member of London's National Portrait Gallery team – attributed the work to John Simpson as a hypothesis worth taking into account in an attribution that has stood to this day.

[5] Thomas Lawrence left between 150 and 200 portraits unfinished.

[6] Julia Floyd, wife of Sir Robert Peel, baronet and Secretary of State for Internal Affairs, patron of the arts and a future Prime Minister of Britain.

[7] D. E. Williams, “The Life and Correspondence of Sir Thomas Lawrence…”, vol. II, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, London, 1831, pp. 513-514.

[8] In 1969, the art historian Oliver Nicholas Millar (1923-2007), then Deputy Surveyor of the Royal Collection, suggested the possibility of the Lisbon portrait representing a replica of that auctioned in London in 1831. See Oliver Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, London, 1969, pp. 71-72.


  • Title: Maria II, Queen of Portugal
  • Creator: Sir Thomas Lawrence (Bristol, 1769-London, 1830), and completed by a studio assistant?
  • Date Created: 1829/1831
  • Location: London, England
  • Rights Information: Fernando Montesinos
  • Rights: COURTESY OF - Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

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