Lieutenant Colonel T.E. Lawrence C.B., D.S.O. Known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Lieutenant Colonel T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935), CB., D.S.O. Painted at the Paris Peace Conference by Sir William Orpen (1919).

Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, C.B., D.S.O. was an archaeologist, army-officer, diplomat and writer, he became renowned for his role in the Arab Revolt and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign against the Ottoman Empire during WW1.

Lawrence’s father was Thomas Chapman, from county Westmeath in Ireland who had left his wife and four daughters and eloped with their maid Sarah Lawrence. They called themselves ‘Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence’ and settled in Oxford in 1896. Their son T. E. Lawrence had often expressed his desire to settle in Ireland and had surveyed property in his ‘homeland’.


Letter signed by T.E. Lawrence to Sir William Orpen, December 1919 for sale.

 Auction at Sotheby’s London – 26th Dec 2020, 02:35 PM (GMT).

Estimate: 3,000 – 5,000 GBP.

UPDATE: Sold for £3000 (Hammer Price). Total £4032.


Property of a Distinguished Collector.


Autograph letter signed, to Sir William Orpen commenting wryly on an article about himself by Lowell Thomas, which he compares to a piece on Orpen in the same issue of Strand magazine, tabulating the terms used to describe both men, balancing “A great painter” against “A great camel driver”; “Luxury-stable clerk” against “Prince of Mecca”; “Dainty little dreamer” against “Born strategist”; “Cheery little Irishman” against “A Great White God”; “yearning unsatisfiable sadness” against “upper middle class”; “Stimulating after dinner” against “A caliph in disguise”, and others, concluding that “Yours seems to me a very faithful portrait” and hoping that “my friends will all see me to the life in this article about me”, 2 pages, 8 volumes (book size), Oxford, 26 December 1919.

Page 1 of the letter.

A REMARKABLE LETTER MOCKING HIS OWN LEGEND, capturing Lawrence’s ambivalence to fame. Lawrence mocks the effusions of Thomas’s article but also points out that “There are to be four or five more: for while you can copyright a picture you cannot copyright yourself, and it takes a lot of paper to make a full-length of a thing like me”. This letter was written as Lawrence was first finding fame through Lowell Thomas, whose stage shows, lectures, and journalism, culminating in With Lawrence in Arabia (1924), did so much to establish the legend of “Lawrence of Arabia”. 

Lawrence and Orpen had met at the Paris Peace Conference; Orpen’s portrait of Lawrence was described by Robert Graves as showing “a sort of street urchin furtiveness”. At the time this letter was written, however, Lawrence had returned, bitterly disappointed, from Paris and was lodged at All Souls College working on Seven Pillars of Wisdom. This letter came just weeks after the infamous occasion when Lawrence had lost his manuscript when changing trains at Reading station, and he was in the midst of writing the second version of the book. THIS LETTER IS APPARENTLY UNPUBLISHED.


Phillips, 11 June 1999, lot 262. Above text from Sotheby’s auction catalogue.

Lawrence originally loved the painting by Orpen which was completed in two 90-minute sessions but he subsequently became less impressed, commenting 14 years later that it lacked conviction and referred to it as mere ‘House Furniture’. Lawrence’s mother however loved it and tried to buy it after Lawrence’s death but it went to an American collector.

The poet Robert Graves (1895 – 1985) said the portrait possessed “a seldom-seen element in Lawrence’s character – a sort of street-urchin furtiveness” (Page 80 – Thirty Years with George Bernard Shaw by Blanche Patch. Published by Victor Gollancz Ltd, London 1951).


The Strand Magazine Jan 1920 Volume 59. Number 349. George Newnes Ltd. London.

The Sir William Orpen article which Lawrence refers to in his letter under “O” (pages 27 – 31). The image is of Orpen’s painting of American President Woodrow Wilson which hangs in The White House.


Photo of The Arabian Commission to the Peace Conference and its advisors. In front, Emir Feisal with, from left to right, Mohanned Rustum Bey Haidar of Baalbek, Brigadier General Nuri Pasha Said, Captain Pisani, T.E. Lawrence and Captain Hassan Bey Kadri.

Orpen also painted Emir Feisal (1883 – 1933) at the Paris Peace Conference (1919).


The Strand Magazine (1919) – Lawrence of Arabia.

The Greatest Romance of Real Life.

The facing page in The Strand. The magazine article contained 13 pages about Lawrence of Arabia by Mr. Lowell Thomas (pages 40 – 53).


 Lawrence met King George V at Buckingham Palace on 30th Oct. 1918 believing the meeting was to discuss new borders for an independent Arabia but when the King announced he wished to bestow a Knighthood on him, Lawrence rejected the offer and stormed out of the Palace. He was angry over the British government’s betrayal of the Arabs who had been promised independence.

Lawrence later published an English translation of Homer’s Odyssey under the pen name of T.E. Shaw which was a shout-out to his friend George Bernard Shaw who had given Lawrence the ‘Rolls Royce of motorbikes’ a Brough Superior SS100. Sadly, Lawrence suffered brain damage after the motorbike and died on 19th May 1935. And thus began the introduction of motorbike helmets.

Photo of T.E. Lawrence on his Brough-Superior-SS100 when he served in the RAF under the name of T.E. Shaw.

He is buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas’ Church in Moreton, UK.

Gravestone of T.E. Lawrence.


Augustus John’s portrait of Laurence of Arabia (1915).

One of a number of paintings of Lawrence of Arabia by Augustus John (1878 – 1961).

Medium: – Oil on canvas.

Presented by the Duke of Westminster 1920 to The Tate Gallery Collection, Reference N03566.


James McBey’s portrait of Laurence of Arabia (1918).

T.E. Lawrence by James McBey (1883 – 1959). IWM.

Painted in Damascus, Syria soon after it was taken by Lawrence and his Arab Army (Imperial War Museum, London, England).


Lawrence wrote several books including Revolt in the Desert.

And the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.


The Movie – Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean (1962).

Peter O’Toole (1932 – 2013).

The Lawrence family originally came from Galway in Ireland. The actor Peter O’Toole was never quite sure if he was Irish or British as he had a Birth Certificate from both countries. He was not only a fine actor but he also looked quite like Lawrence and in fact received his first Oscar nomination for Lawrence of Arabia.

Link to Sotheby’s sale: –

Other links: –


Post by Dominic Lee, Orpen Research Project Archives.

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