Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (1745-1790)
When George III was asked by Lord Eglinton to sit for the most fashionable portrait painter of the day, Joshua Reynolds, he replied: ‘Mr Ramsay is my painter, my Lord.’ Reynolds tried to gain royal notice with two speculative ventures – a portrait of George III as Prince of Wales (OM 1011, 401034) and an oil sketch for a depiction of his marriage to Queen Charlotte (OM 1012, 404353) – both of which remained on his hands. Reynolds was knighted by George III, made first president of the Royal Academy and Principal Painter to the King upon Ramsay’s death in 1784, but never asked to paint anything. That the Royal Collection has a fine group of Reynolds is entirely thanks to George IV, who commissioned portraits at the end of the artist’s life and acquired many examples of his earlier work like this one.
This portrait was begun in 1772 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773; it was originally full-length and its appearance can be seen in Thomas Watson’s print of 20 May 1774. At some time before 1792 it was acquired by George IV and suffered so much in the Carlton House fire of 8 June 1824 that only the parts we now see could be retrieved. The sitter is wearing the robes and collar of the Order of the Garter, and with powdered hair.