Portrait of Cecil Lawson by Sir Hubert Herknomer, © National
Portrait Gallery, London [Click on the image for more details.]

Cecil Gordon Lawson was born in Fountain Place in Wellington in Shropshire on 3 December 1849. His parents William Lawson (fl. 1819-1864) and mother Elizabeth R. Stone were both artists who had been born in Scotland. Cecil's elder brother Francis "Wilfrid" Lawson (1842-1935) also became a well-known artist, and was one of those who participated in the illustration revival of the 1860s. In 1861, when Cecil was ten, the family moved to London, initially Doughty Street in the St. Pancras area, but in 1870 they moved to Chelsea to Carlton House at 15 Cheyne Walk next door to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Lawsons continued to live in Chelsea until 1878.

Wilfrid's portrait of his brother

From Wilfrid's watercolour of his brother
(source: Owen 2).

Lawson never received any formal artistic training but was taught the elements of drawing and painting by his father and by his eldest brother Wilfrid. Other than that Cecil was basically self-taught. Wilfrid introduced him to his artistic colleagues like Charles Keene, Hubert Herkomer, Fred Walker, and G. J. Pinwell. Other artists he admired were John Everett Millais and William Small. His work was broadly similar to other artists associated with the Idyllist school, but he had his own distinctive style (see Morgan). In 1866 he made his first sketching tour to Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. At that time he was painting in watercolour influenced by William Henry Hunt. After 1869 he resumed principally painting in oils.

From the 1870s onwards Cecil began designing both figurative and landscape illustrations for periodicals like The Quiver, The Graphic, and Good Words. In 1868 he first exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy. He began exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1870 and also exhibited at the New British Institution, the Society of British Artists and the Grosvenor Gallery, and at the provincial centres in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Lawson travelled widely throughout his life, particularly in Britain but also to the continent. He visited Ireland in 1873 and travelled to Holland, Belgium, and France, including Paris, in 1874. He visited Switzerland in 1879 and in 1881-82 he returned to France painting in locations such as Nice, Menton and Monaco.

Lawson married Constance Birnie Phillip in 1879. Herself an artist, she was the eldest daughter of the sculptor John Birnie Philip. Her sister Beatrice [Beatrix] would eventually marry the American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler. After a honeymoon in Switzerland the Lawsons moved to Heath Edge, Haslemere, Surrey, the former home of artist George Henry Boughton. They lived here for most of their married life and had one son born in 1880.

Unfortunately soon after his marriage his health began to break down. The Lawsons spent the winter of 1881 in the French Riviera for the sake of Cecil's health. The couple returned to England too soon and Cecil suffered a relapse. A visit to Eastborne proved of no benefit and he died in West Brompton in London on June 10, 1882 from "inflammation of the lungs." He was buried at Haslemere.


Esposito, Donato. Frederick Walker and the Idyllists. London: Lund Humphries, 2017, Chapter 5, 112-135.

Gosse, Edmund. Cecil Lawson: A Memoir. London: The Fine Art Society, 1883.

Morgan, Hilary, and Peter Nahum. Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Their Century. London: Peter Nahum, 1989. Catologue number 138.

Owen, Heseltine. "In Memoriam: Cecil Gordon Lawson." The Magazine of Art XVII (1894): 1-6, 64-70.

Created 11 June 2023