This engaging portrait was made by Benjmain Burnell, one of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s most accomplished pupils. Drawn in 1802 this highly finished drawing depicts a boy dressed in the distinctive uniform of Christ’s Hospital probably with his younger brother. Burnell entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1791 as an architectural student at the comparatively late age of 22 but changed to become a student of painting.
The diarist Joseph Farington recorded in 1801 another of Lawrence’s pupils, the engraver Richard James Lane, complaining that Lawrence employed him to copy his portraits but failed to sufficiently remunerate him adding:
‘He had heard that Mr. L[awrence] served His former pupil Mr. Burnel in the same manner exactly, having employed him a year & a half & never wd. Pay him one farthing (all these were Lanes words) till he was arrested. This was told Lane by Mr Dobson a relation of his.’
Lane, it seems, was being hyperbolic and Burnell was never arrested for debt, but it suggests that Lawrence was a negligent teacher. Despite this, the present drawing shows that Burnell adopted and adapted Lawrence’s own approach to drawn portraits. The elegant composition has been carefully worked in black chalk with only the faces and hands being rendered in coloured chalks. Although more densely worked than most of Lawrence’s portrait drawings, Burnell’s study retains something of the spare elegance for which Lawrence was particularly noted. Other examples by Burnell show him to have been a proficient exponent of this kind of portraiture; an engaging bust-length drawing of the great Regency art collector William Holwell-Carr signed and dated 1798 survives in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Burnell also had a successful and prolific career as a portraitist and history painter and is listed exhibiting regularly at the National Gallery from 1790 until his death in 1828.