A skilled and sensitive draughtsman, Laurence was to cultivate a rich and diverse group of literary associates and friends largely through his wife who was related to the writer Leigh Hunt. He first exhibited at the Society of British Artists in 1836 and from 1853 until 1882 at the Royal Academy in London. During his early married life he visited Florence and Venice, studying diligently the methods of the old masters. Later in 1854 Laurence travelled to America to take a portrait of the poet, Henry Longfellow for an illustrated edition of poems commissioned by George Routledge, Longfellow’s London publisher; he remained in America until 1861. The chalk portrait was completed in June 1854 and was well received, Fanny Longfellow noting on 19th June in a letter to her sister Mary Mackintosh that `all agree in thinking the best yet taken. It is full of life and with a very lively, agreeable expression’. William Thackeray was also a close friend and helped Laurence secure many patrons: he wrote in 1853 to Bancroft: `I think Laurence is the best drawer of heads since Van Dyke’. This praise secured a flow of notable patrons including George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Thomas Carlyle, Anthony Trollope and Elizabeth Gaskell.
The portrait presented here is an early work which displays well his burgeoning talents, particularly with chalks a medium he was to excel in. Adopting a style that closely resembles George Richmond it also echoes in manner the drawings of his namesake Sir Thomas Lawrence. The sitter is possibly related to the artist Richard Ansdell.