Laurentia Dorothea and the penniless portrait painter

Before her marriage to Francis Robertson, Laurentia Ross sat for Thomas Lawrence – then a jobbing artist, later to become President of the Royal Academy and acknowledged as the finest portrait painter of the Regency period. They were probably introduced by fellow natives of Tain in Rosshire, William Charles Ross and his sister Magdalena, who both became notable painters of miniatures, with William becoming a member of the Royal academy and contemporary of Lawrence.

Lawrence and Laurentia developed a long and lasting friendship attested by a series of letters and poems written by Lawrence to Laurentia which are preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Aside from their friendship, Lawrence’s correspondence also gives a picture of the parlous state of his finances at the start of his career:

Dear Miss Ross,
Let me entrust you with a confidential secret and this in the form of a question. Does Mr Ross or the Gentleman whom I saw the other Day when I first began the picture pay for it / shall be very glad at this moment to add so much to my Banker’s account but the only way in which I can learn whether it would be convenient or not is through you on whom I have a complete dependence for the sincerity of the answer and for the ingenuity & delicacy that is necessary to ascertain the fact. I shall not complain of your Father or of your Friend if they don”t pay me these five years and for the best of reasons because I have no right to do so.

The ‘gentleman’ mentioned in the letter was Laurentia’s fiancé and future husband   Francis Robertson Esq. of Chilcote in Leicestershire, where he was Lord of the Manor and owner of the village which he substantially rebuilt.

In the northern extension burial ground a badly deteriorating box tomb to the memory of their daughter Sophia who died in 1832 remains.  Their only child surviving into adulthood was Eben William Robertson, who became High Sherriff of Derbyshire and accomplished historian of medieval Scotland.

In the Garden of Rest, they are remembered by a large unscripted panel laid onto the grass which includes the lengthy epitaph for each copied below.

To the memory of LAURENTIA DOROTHEA wife of FRANCIS ROBERTSON Esq died 2 August 1846 aged 70 years, also sacred to the memory of FRANCIS ROBERTSON Esq of Tain in Rosshire. born 1 August 1764 died 7 September 1852 aged 87 years who exemplary in all the social duties of life evinced the spirit of heavenly love, which actuated her performance of these duties and prepared her for the sufferings of a long and painful illness to submit with pious and cheerful resignation to the will of God and in the deep consciousness of her own utter insufficiency to rest her sole hope of eternal salvation on the atoning merits and mediation of her blessed redeemer.

Gifted with eminent abilities. Endowed with great virtues and possessing singular truthfulness of character the excellent qualities of his mind and heart rendered him esteemed and beloved in every relation of life, for the benefit of his fellow creatures many profited by his prosperity, and his unshaken trust in all the sufficient merits of the one and only saviour prepared him to meet death with the calm resignation of a true Christian. Deeply and fervently regretted by his surviving children and remaining friends he was permitted to retain his mental facilities unclouded to the last, and having been blessed with more than ordinary health and length of days his spirit returned to his maker almost without a struggle.

His end was peace.

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