Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
George IV (1762-1830), when Prince of Wales
Just as Jeremiah Meyer is the miniaturist most closely associated with George III and Queen Charlotte, so Cosway stands in the same respect to their children. Indeed, it was Cosway’s success in depicting George IV’s (illegal) wife, Maria Fitzherbert, in miniature that led to his appointment as Principal Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1785 - a title that he characteristically recorded in Latin (Primarius Pictor Serenissimi Walliae Principis). Cosway is the artist who captured the essence of George IV’s flamboyant years before he became King. To a certain extent, artist and sitter were similar in character and Cosway, like his patron, was relentlessly caricatured for his egotism as well as his extravagant and eccentric ways. The portrait of the artist, shown by Zoffany with exaggerated pose among his fellow Royal Academicians (Royal Collection), is a vivid representation of the man who would have been perfectly cast as Osric in Hamlet. At the height of his fame Cosway lived for many years in Schomberg House in Pall Mall close to Carlton House, and not far from the court at St James’s. In 1786 he was also appointed Miniature Painter to the future George IV, for whom he acted as artistic adviser until he fell from favour in 1811. Cosway was a distinguished and prodigious collector in his own right, with a profound knowledge of European art.
George IV is here shown wearing the uniform of the 10th Light Dragoons, a regiment of which he was immensely proud to be Colonel-Commandant, from 1793 until 1820. He found the uniform particularly attractive and was depicted wearing it in two paintings by Beechey. A further picture by George Stubbs commemorates the future George IV’s association with the regiment, but does not include his portrait. It is possible that this miniature was undertaken to mark the Prince’s appointment as Colonel-Commandant. The riband and star of the Order of the Garter are worn over the uniform, together with a white cross belt decorated with Prince of Wales’s feathers.
Several miniatures of this subject are recorded in the accounts submitted by Cosway to the sitter: five in the list for May 1795, at a charge of 30 gns. each, and further examples in a list for 1799-1800, at a charge of 25 gns. (RA GEO/26460). A slightly smaller version is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and a copy is in the Royal Collection. This portrait is in Cosway’s mature style. It is firmly drawn with a great deal of detail in the uniform, coiffure and facial features, with a fully realised sky background.