T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935) was a lieutenant colonel during the First World War, fighting at Aqaba, Jordon, with the Arabs against the Ottoman Turks. The Arab and British armys forced the Ottoman army to withdraw from the territory, thus protecting the Suez Canal and earning T.E. Lawrence the title ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. This was was later used as the title of the 1962 film about his life, directed by David Lean, featuring Peter O’Toole as Lawrence. In 1922 Lawrence published the account of his experience during the war in ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, and a posthumous edition of this book was published in 1935 with a cast of the present work illustrated on its frontispiece.
Lawrence sat for the modelling of the bust, from which this pencil sketch is taken, in November – December 1926. In February 1927 Lawrence wrote to the artist expressing his admiration for it, ‘It’s amazing: and very curious … Yours is magificent; there is no other word for it. It represents not me, but my top-moments, those few seconds in which I succeed in thinking myself right out of things … It hangs together as a most convincing portrait of a person very sure of himself’ (see D. Garnett (ed.), ‘The Letters of T.E. Lawrence’, London, 1938, pp. 507-508).
A version of this bronze bust was unveiled in January 1936 and adorns the walls of the crypt in St Paul’s Cathedral facing Nelson’s Sarcophagus.
By tradition it is has always be held that this drawing was given to the previous owner by Lawrence as a gift, whilst he was in the R.A.F. under the alias of Shaw but unfortunately no further evidence can substantiate this claim. It is worth noting also that given the angle at which the drawing depicts the head it is highly likely that it is copied from the aforementioned frontispiece to ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.