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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
George III (1738-1820)
Vic Min 578
Joseph Lee's enamel depicts George III as an old man, bearded and with grey hair, seated in profile to the left, wearing a blue ermine-lined cloak; organ pipes can be seen in the background on the left. The counter-enamel is signed, dated and inscribed in black paint: 'His Majesty George the 3rd / from the Original sketch by John Jackson Esq. R.A./ Joseph Lee Pinx t / London / 1827'. However, although a painting of this subject by John Jackson (present location unknown) must have existed, the origin of the image from which Lee's enamel derives appears to have been a mezzotint by Samuel William Reynolds (604480; 604483) which was modified in direct consultation with George IV. A large-scale unfinished enamel copy by Charles Muss dated 1827 (11922) showing the king ‘as He appeared at / Windsor Castle / during his last illness’ is also in the Royal Collection. Lee’s enamel is remarkable within his oeuvre for its unsurpassed depth of colour and richness of finish, qualities made all the more admirable and technically challenging by the large scale of the enamel. There are no individual payments to Lee recorded in the Georgian accounts in the Royal Archives at this period, although the possibility remains that this enamel was acquired through Rundell, Bridge & Rundell by George IV.
Joseph Lee (1780-1859) was self-taught as an an enamellist at a late age, but made a successful career as an enamel painter, exhibiting intermittently at the RA and the SBA between 1809 and 1853 from addresses in London. He styled himself as ‘enamel painter’ to Princess Charlotte of Wales and later worked as ‘enamel painter’ to Augustus, Duke of Sussex. It may have been the gift of a small enamel of the Duke of Sussex to Queen Victoria that first made her familiar with Lee’s work. She employed his services for producing enamel copies based on oil paintings between 1844 and 1850. He retired from miniature painting in his final years and died, aged seventy-nine, in Gravesend, Kent, on 26 December 1859.