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The precocious lad whose talent makes him a painter is rare. Natural aptitude for drawing and natural sense of colour are not uncommon, but the possessor of these gifts may remain quite undistinguished. He generally succeeds in doing so in these days when the old traditions of art are despised by the cognoscenti, and the genuine faculty of interpretation is not understood or appreciated by the rank and file of those who pay their annual tribute of one shilling to the authorities of Burlington House, and are not always ashamed to frame the colour plates that illustrated papers inflict upon their long-suffering subscribers. Life is harder for the young painter of genius than his contemporary musician of like age. It was not always so, and turning back to the history of England’s accepted artists, the name of Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A., stands out as one of the most brilliant examples in the history of art, of untutored skill that came near to amounting to positive genius.
The history of the Italian painters provides us with many cases in which men, starting life with talents akin to those that Lawrence enjoyed, claimed and found a measure of immortality. Only a few will be found to declare that the English painter is destined to the very highest place in the annals of British art, but at his best he is a very notable painter indeed, in spite of the fact that everything in his life was working in opposition to the best interests of his art. He had no education, his gifts were exploited shamelessly from the days when he was a little boy. As he grew up, the imperious need for money gave to purely commercial work the precious years that should have been surrendered to study. Happily Fortune was not altogether unkind. She checked the proper development of rare talent, she kept the painter from all opportunity of becoming the most outstanding figure of his generation in the critical eyes of generations to come; but, on the other hand, she loaded him with all the material favours within her gift. His career was as brilliant as the passage of a meteor through the sky; he rose from surroundings of the most unsatisfactory kind to the highest place in the profession he adorned. He became the intimate of princes and people of high degree, and, with certain limitations imposed by an incomplete education, he was a great painter.
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