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T.E. Lawrence

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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T.E. Lawrence

by Augustus John
pencil, 1919
14 in. x 10 in. (356 mm x 254 mm)
Given by George Bernard Shaw, 1944
Primary Collection
NPG 3187

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961), Painter. Artist or producer associated with 33 portraits, Sitter in 106 portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 105
  • Gibson, Robin; Clerk, Honor, 20th Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1993, p. 11 Read entry

    The drawing of Lawrence of Arabia is one of the Gallery's most famous images, conveying in its few lines the magnetism of the most romantic hero to emerge from the First World War. It was drawn, according to Lawrence, 'in two minutes' at the Versailles Peace Conference and was given by him to Charlotte and George Bernard Shaw who in turn presented it to the National Portrait Gallery in 1944.

    As liaison officer to the Emir Feisal of the Hejaz, Lawrence helped to sustain the revolt of the Arabs against Turkish rule, inspiring and performing extraordinary feats of courage and endurance, but it was not until after the war that the publicity generated by the American journalist, Lowell Thomas, made him a household name. Fame, however, did not rest easily on his shoulders and though he wrote a celebrated account of the war in the desert, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the latter part of his life was spent in (well publicized) obscurity in the ranks of the RAF under an assumed name. Three months after leaving the RAF, at the age of only 46, he was killed in a motorcycle accident near his cottage in Dorset.

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 161
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 183
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 183 Read entry

    This sketch of T.E. Lawrence, better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia', was done by Augustus John with his customary ease and dexterity when both artist and sitter were at the Paris Peace Conference held at Versailles in spring 1919. Lawrence was acting as an adviser and interpreter for Emir Feisal and hating it, writing that 'Those five months in Paris were the worst I have ever lived through.' Augustus John, on the other hand, was hugely enjoying himself, living at the expense of the British government in order to paint the conference. The sketch was done at John's flat in a couple of minutes, while T.E. Lawrence was looking out of the window into the street, pensive and rather moody. But he liked the result and reproduced it in the subscriber's edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It shows him as he wished to be remembered, independent-minded, reflective and passionately pro-Arab, even to the extent of wearing Arab dress.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 369
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 197 Read entry

    Intelligence officer and author, T. E. Lawrence – known as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – achieved notoriety as a First World War hero who, as a liaison officer to Emir Feisal of the Hejaz, helped liberate the Arabs from Turkish rule. His exploits in the Middle East were kept secret for security reasons during the war, but were becoming publicly known by 1919, making Lawrence into something of a celebrity. Lawrence began writing about his experiences at the Colonial Office and the resultant book, a much embellished account of his career entitled The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, was published in a private edition in 1926 and in an abridged version titled Revolt in the Desert in 1927, both of which feature a reproduction of this portrait.

    The first of several drawings and paintings made of Lawrence by Augustus John (1878–1961), it was apparently finished in two minutes while Lawrence was looking out of a window in the artist’s apartment in Paris, where he was attending the Versailles Conference as Emir Feisal’s advisor and translator.

  • Wilson, Jeremy, T.E. Lawrence: Lawrence of Arabia, 1988 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 9 December 1988 - 12 March 1989), p. 174

Placesback to top

  • Place made: France (artist's home, Paris)

Events of 1919back to top

Current affairs

Sir John William Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown pilot the first successful non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, flying 1980 miles in their modified Vickers Vimy bomber plane in just over 16 hours. Their achievement won them a £10,000 prize from the Daily Mail newspaper.

Art and science

John Maynard Keynes publishes The Economic Consequences of the Peace, an influential economic text that criticised the harsh economic treatment of Germany at the Treaty of Versailles and predicted the destabilising effects of the vindictive settlement.


The Paris Peace Conference negotiates the peace treaties between the victorious and defeated powers. The Conference culminated in a number of treaties including the Treaty of Versailles, which granted independence for the countries under Austrian and Russian rule and forced Germany to accept responsibility for the war and pay reparations. It also established the League of Nations.

Tell us more back to top

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Turiyan M Gold

31 May 2022, 19:46

Lawrence arab friends considered his realist art simply “scribbles”.

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