This captivating sketch was recently acquired by The Holburne Museum of Bath – see my previous post on the Wedding Dance in the Open air by Breughel, depicting the young Etonian fresh from university and ready for a career in politics.
Perhaps what makes this painting so arresting is the ambiguity regarding his appearance – if not for the angularity of his jaw line he could very well be a young woman.
The rise of the ‘dandy’ amongst high society men was increasingly popular during the late 1700s and it is this that can be seen in the preparatory sketch by Thomas Lawrence – who was only a few years older than Atherly at the time that the painting was commissioned.
The three-quarter length, finished portrait is owned and on show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in America (see below) The finished painting is quite definitely male but still has some of the boyish looks of the sketch. The light is different to that of the sketch and therefore influences how we see the structure of Atherly’s face.