Born on 13 April 1769 in Bristol. A self-taught artist whose portrait drawings, made in his father's inn at Devizes, were already being admired in 1779. He moved to London in 1787 and showed a pastel at the Royal Academy, London that year. In 1790 his whole-lengths of Queen Charlotte (National Gallery, London) and Elizabeth Farren (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) established his reputation and on the death of Reynolds in 1792 he was appointed Principal Painter to the King. He exhibited portraits (and three histories) at the Royal Academy, London 1787-1830, and was elected Associate Royal Academician, London 1791 and Royal Academician 1794.
The Prince Regent (later George IV), to whom Lawrence was introduced in 1814, richly influenced his later years, knighting him in 1815 and commissioning the series of portraits of European sovereigns and statesmen for the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor. In fulfilling this commission Lawrence visited Aix-la-Chapelle, Vienna and Rome in 1818-20 and Paris in 1825. He was elected PRA in 1820. He died in London on 7 January 1830.
His remarkable collection of old master drawings was bought by Samuel Woodhurn in 1835; many of those by Raphael and Michelangelo were acquired by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in 1845.