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Portrait of Gavin Lawson (1738-1805)

Origin: America, Virginia, Stafford County
Unframed: 50 x 37 7/8in. (127 x 96.2cm) and Framed: 56 x 45 1/8 x 2 7/8in.
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1954-261,A&B
A three-quarter-length portrait of a young man seated, turned in three-quarter view towards the viewer's left, his proper right arm extended over the far arm of his chair with his index finger pointing downward. His proper left hand rests in his lap. He sits in an open-back arm chair with curving arm rests and carved knuckles. He wears a brown coat and brown knee breeches with a white satin (in appearance) waistcoat, white stockings, white ruffled shirt, and white neckcloth. His near leg is crossed over his far leg. He has brown eyes and brown hair. The background is olive-brown with a dark green drapery filling the upper right corner and with an indistinct rectangular shape [a window with a closed interior shutter?] in the upper left corner.

The 3 3/8-inch scoop-molded, black-painted frame has gilded egg- and-dart ornament at the sight edge, is constructed with corner splines, and is believed to be original. The leading edge is a separate molding, applied to the back frame. Also see n. 1.
Label:The Lawsons lived at Hampstead plantation, Stafford County, Virginia, and moved later to Geneva, Seneca County, New York. He was a successful merchant who had married into the prominent Fitzhugh family. No doubt Lawson commissioned these extraordinary likenesses because of a familiarity with some of the many Fitzhugh paintings that Hesselius created. The Lawson portraits show a strong influence of the English itinerant artist John Wollaston Jr. as well as Hesselius’s fully developed interpretation of the rococo style. They rank among his most ambitious portraits with highly developed compositions, complex perspective, and sophisticated coloring, particularly in the use of warmer hues for shading.
The 1771 portrait of Susannah’s mother, Anne Fitzhugh Rose, by John Hesselius is also owned by Colonial Williamsburg.

Provenance:See the file statement dated November 9, 1954, that was sent to Knoedler's by descendent Robert Rose Carson, then forwarded to CWF by Knoedler's. Also see Elizabeth Clare, Knoedler's, to CWF, November 11, 1954. According to Carson, the portraits of Gavin and Susannah Lawson descended from the subjects to their daughter, Jane Lawson (who married her first cousin, Robert Rose); thence to her son, Charles A. Rose; to his son, Arthur P. Rose; to his son, Arthur Lawson Rose; to his first cousin, Dr. Hugh D. Rose (d. before 1954). The two portraits are believed to have been consigned to Knoedler's (CWF's source) by the estate of Dr. Hugh D. Rose.

Christine Rose ("Bibliography"), p. 75, diverges from the preceding in saying that the portraits went from Arthur P. Rose to his daughters, Misses Mary and Hester Rose of New York, NY, thence to Knoedler's.
Inscription(s):Inscribed on the reverse of the primary support (now covered by a lining canvas) is: "Gawin Lawson AEtat 30/J. Hesselius Pinx/1770/ Virginia June 21st".

N. B. The transcription was taken from a file photo made by conservator Sheldon Keck, which, due to residual glue from a removed lining, does not show the lettering clearly. (Keck transcribed the inscription onto the back of the new lining canvas that he added in the course of his 1957 treatment.) Caroline Keck to John Graham, CWF, December 6, 1957, spells the subject's first name "Gavin," whereas Sheldon Keck's official report of January 1958 spells it "Gawin." The word appears to be "Gawin" in the conservation photo.

In his report of January 1958, Sheldon Keck noted having discovered Hesselius's signature on the front of the companion canvas (1954-262); he felt that Gavin Lawson's portrait had also been signed at one point "but [that] the fragile nature of the signature made its removal inevitable in any careless treatment, besides with all the dirt, it may not even have been noticed and unintentionally covered up." No inscription has been noted on the front of 1954-261.