George, Prince of Wales, later George IV (1762 - 1830)

On display in:

Red Drawing Room

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Artist or maker

Gainsborough, Thomas (b.1727, d.1788)

Date

1781

see commentary for dating

Place of production

  • London, England, United Kingdom

Medium

  • oil on canvas

Type of object

  • paintings

Accession number

2258

Full length oil portrait of George, Prince of Wales, later George IV (1762-1830), standing and leaning on a horse, with an ivy-clad tree behind, to the right. The Prince leans his left elbow on the horse; his right hand is on his hip; he rests his left foot behind his right ankle. He looks to the right, his face in three-quarter profile. He wears a scarlet jacket with epaulettes decorated with the Garter Star; riding breeches and boots. The horse has a sheep-skin saddle cloth, also decorated with the Garter Star, and a harness with decorated with brass hunting horns.

Thomas Gainsborough painted this portrait for the Prince of Wales who gave it to his friend Captain John Hayes St Leger. Gainsborough also painted a portrait of St Leger which the Prince kept, still in the Royal Collection. The Prince was much admired by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild as a collector of French art.

Commentary

The painting appears in a list of portraits made for the Prince dated 1781. By this date, Thomas Gainsborough, a one-time provincial artist, had established a very successful portrait studio in Pall Mall, London. Although Reynolds was made Royal Painter to the King in 1784, Gainsborough actually had a much better relationship with the Royal family. He told an acquaintance that: 'he talked bawdy to the King, & morality to the Prince of Wales'. He exhibited full length portraits of the King and Queen in 1781, and portraits of their younger children in 1783. The portraits of St Leger and the Prince were exhibited in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1782. As traditional for full-length portraits, they were hung high in the gallery. One viewer compared Gainsborough's portraits of the two men to criminals hanging from the gallows. Gainsborough's anger at this display policy caused him to withdraw his paintings from the Royal Academy exhibition in 1784. However, the pose of the Prince's feet in this work does lend them a hanging appearance.

In the portrait, Gainsborough shows the Prince with his favourite Spanish horse, which looks intelligently out at the viewer. Gainsborough had used this format in his portrait of Lord Ligonier of 1770, but critics had complained about the dominance of the horse in that work. Here, the horse is more of a background prop. The Prince leans against it with a relaxed and proprietorial air. The Prince is wearing a uniform that he actually made up himself - he was not in a regiment at the time. Both the Prince and St Leger have saddles or shabracques decorated with the prestigious Royal Star of the Garter. Gainsborough was instructed to include these saddles as George had given it to his friend. Portraits of men in military dress dominated the Royal Academy exhibition of 1782 but rather than being shown in action, the men in these portraits were shown in genteel relaxed poses as in this portrait.

In his lifetime the Prince was not highly esteemed. Contemporaries saw him as a selfish and extravagant hedonist. Indeed, badly in debt, he never paid Gainsborough for this portrait. He was on bad terms with his father, George III, because of his moral laxity and his association with the Whig opposition, as well as illegally marrying a Roman Catholic. However, Ferdinand de Rothschild wrote of him: 'the acclimatisation of French art might have been only temporary had not the Prince Regent... settled its destiny in this country... He was endowed with the most exquisite taste, and availed himself of the unique opportunities of the time with a profusion that, however, was always tempered with good judgement'. Hung in the main reception room at Waddesdon, the Red Drawing Room, the portrait represented Ferdinand's own tastes.

The portrait was engraved in mezzotint by the renowned engraver John Raphael Smith, London, 28 April 1783. The print exists in four states. There is a replica of the head only, attributed to Gainsborough Dupont, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The portrait was also copied in pencil by Richard Crosse, 1788.

Phillippa Plock, 2011

Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

2501 x 1860

Signature & date

not signed or dated

History

Provenance

  • Commissioned by George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) (b. 1762, d. 1830) for £126; given as a present to his friend Captain John Hayes St Leger (b.1756, d.1800); inherited by his brother Anthony Butler St Leger (active 1800-1852); by descent to Anthony Francis Butler St Leger (d.1862); inherited by his cousin Colonel John Bagot-Chester (St Leger from 1863) (b.1823, d.1905); sold by Colonel John St Leger to Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd 3 June 1882; bought from Agnew's by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) with Reynolds's 'Captain St Leger', for a combined price of £5,750, stock no 2442, 12 May [June?] 1882; inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon (The National Trust) in 1957.

Exhibition history

  • Royal Academy Exhibition, 1782, London, no. 77
  • British Institute, 1852, London, no. 77, lent by Anthony Butler St Leger
  • Royal Academy Exhibition, 1884, London, no. 151, lent by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild
  • Royal Academy Exhibition, 1934, London, no. 200, lent by James A. de Rothschild

Collection

  • Waddesdon (National Trust)
  • Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957
Bibliography

Bibliography

  • John C Smith; British Mezzotinto Portraits; 4 Volumes; London; Henry Southern; 1884; vol. 3, p. 1308; on engraving after the portrait.
  • William T. Whitley; Thomas Gainsborough; London; Smith, Elder; 1915; p. 189.
  • Ellis Waterhouse; Gainsborough; London; Edward Hulton Limited; 1958; p. 95, no. 707.
  • Ellis Waterhouse, The English Pictures at Waddesdon Manor, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 49-56; p. 52.
  • Joanna Richardson; George IV: A Portrait; London; Sidgwick & Jackson; 1966; pp. 17, 19, ill.
  • Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; pp. 36-38, no. 5.
  • Moya Frenz St. Leger; St. Leger: The Family and the Race; Chichester; Phillimore & Co. Ltd; 1986; p. 79.
  • John Hayes; British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries; Washington; National Gallery of Art; 1992; p. 64, fig. 1.
  • Gainsborough and Reynolds: Contrasts in Royal Patronage; Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 1994; London; Merrell Holberton Publishers; 1994; p. 76, ill.
  • Mark Hallett, Reading the Walls: Pictorial Dialogue at the British Royal Academy, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 37, 2004, 581-604; pp. 598-599, ill.
  • Martin Postle, Reynolds's Portraits at Waddesdon Manor: Painting for Posterity, Apollo, 139, 1994, 19-33; p. 23.
  • Martin Postle; Thomas Gainsborough; London; The Tate Gallery Publications; 2002; pp. 60-61, fig. 53.
  • William Vaughan; Gainsborough; London; Thames & Hudson; 2002; pp. 155-56, fig. 124.
  • Michael Hall; Waddesdon Manor: The Heritage of a Rothschild House; New York; Harry N Abrams Inc; 2002; p. 100.
  • Barthélémy Jobert, Un âge d'or du portrait anglais, L'Estampille. L' Objet d'Art, October 2006; p. 52.
  • Michael Hall, Bric-a-Brac: A Rothschild Memoir of Collecting, Apollo, 166, July 2007-August 2007, 50-77; pp. 91, 97 n. 131.
  • Kevin Murphy, Peter Brownlee, Blaise Ducos, Guillaume Faroult, Stephanie Mayer Heydt; American Encounters: Portraiture in an Age of Revolution; Seattle; Marquand Books; 2013; p. 26, ill.
  • Mark Hallett; Joshua Reynolds: Portraiture in Action; New Haven; Yale University Press; 2014; pp. 362-3, 396, fig. 348.
  • Hugh Belsey; Thomas Gainsborough: The Portraits, Fancy Pictures and Copies After Old Masters (Volume 1 and 2); 1-2; The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale University Press; 2019; cat. 929, vol. II, pp. 861-863, ill.

Related files

Other details

Subject person

  • George IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Sitter