Aircraftman Shaw

(Portrait of T. E. Lawrence)

Illustration © The Estate of John David Roberts. Reproduced with the permission of the William Roberts Society. Catalogue information based on the catalogue raisonné by David Cleall. For this and full details of the exhibitions cited, see the links below. Any auction prices quoted may not include all fees and taxes, such as VAT and Artist's Resale Right charges.

Aircraftman Shaw, 1922

Aircraftman Shaw (aka Portrait of T. E. Lawrence), 1922
Oil on canvas, 92 cm x 61 cm

In early 1920 a former Slade colleague of Roberts's, Colin Gill, wrote to, him 'Colonel Lawrence is seeking artists to make portrait drawings for a book he is producing [Seven Pillars of Wisdom]; get in touch with him.' Roberts did so. A year or so later Lawrence (1888–1935) commissioned Roberts to paint his own portrait. The sittings took place in a flat in Earls Court in which Roberts had been borrowing a room. In August 1922 Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force under the name John Hume Ross, in attempt to avoid his celebrity as 'Lawrence of Arabia'. He was soon exposed, and in February 1923 was forced out of the air force. He then enlisted in the Tank Corps as T. E. Shaw, but was unhappy there and in August 1925 was allowed to return to the RAF as Aircraftman Shaw. 'Air-Craftsman Shaw' was – anachronistically – the name that Roberts gave the painting in his publication Paintings 19171958 by William Roberts ARA (London, 1960). In a letter to Roberts on 16 February 1923 Lawrence wrote about his RAF uniform, 'Most of the R.A.F. would accept your judgement upon it: but it's easy to look after, & comfortable, & so I had no quarrel with it. People of my odd shape would look funny in anything, you know.'
PROVENANCE: Presented by Professor A. W. Lawrence > Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (1946)
EXHIBITION HISTORY: Chenil Gallery 1923, National Portrait Gallery 1988, Leeds/Ben Uri Gallery 2003, Newcastle 2004

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