Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait drawing of King George III, c.1803 

Henry Edridge (1769-1821)

Portrait drawing of King George III, c.1803, Henry Edridge
Pencil and grey wash on paper
19th Century
12 3/4 x 9 in (32 .5 x 23 cm)
King George III’s private collection; probably bequeathed to Princess Sophia (1768–1840); Ernest Augustus, 1st Duke of Cumberland & Teviotdale, later King of Hanover (1771–1851) ; By descent through the Kings of Hanover to; The Prince of Hanover, Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg (b.1954 - )
Inventory of Schloss Marienburg, Hanover, Germany 1906/7 inv. No. 288
Possibly exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803 as ‘Portraits of Their Majesties’.
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These exquisite drawings were commissioned by George III as part of a series of intimate and private family portraits. They were among his personal art collection, and later, through descent to George’s younger son the Duke of Cumberland, belonged to the Kings of Hanover. Their recent discovery allows us to reinterpret both the circumstances in which the portraits were commissioned, and a hitherto unknown pattern of dispersal of works from the Royal Collection.

Henry Edridge was Britain’s pre-eminent portrait draughtsman of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In the summer of 1802 he was summoned to Windsor Castle, having been commissioned by George III – the foremost Royal patron of the arts since Charles I – to draw a series of family portraits. According to the diarist and landscape artist Joseph Farington, Edridge first visited Windsor in June 1802, where he drew George and Charlotte’s four unmarried daughters; Augusta, Sophia, Mary and Elizabeth – not quite the ugly ducklings, but nevertheless a clutch of unoccupied Princesses who granted Edridge many (if brief) sittings.

Edridge’s drawings of the Princesses, of which there are several versions in varying poses, were obviously a success. Later that year he returned to Windsor to draw Charlotte, and in January 1803, the King himself. On the latter occasion, Farington noted on 25th January 1803, “Edridge has been at Windsor making drawings of the Royal family. The King sat to him on the last 3 days before His Majesty left Windsor. He had wished to sit no more, but consented on the Sunday [&] sat on the Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday & went to London on Thursday.” Farington also records the fragile King’s apparent state of mind, “Edridge said a very strong impression of the goodness of his Majesty’s disposition was made on his mind by what he saw of him.” [1]

Given that the King had recently recovered from his first serious bout of madness, and only a few years later would recede into a state of almost perpetual bewilderment, Edridge’s drawings and observations were important political statements. In the Royal Academy exhibition of 1803, Edridge exhibited both drawings (very possibly the present examples). In this portrait George III is emphatically not a madman. He is shown wearing his own design of Windsor uniform, in front of Windsor Castle (pre-Wyattville), and carries the air of the benevolent and popular ‘Farmer King’. The message from the portrait is simple – the King was in good health, and his son’s attempt to establish a Regency (with the help of the Radical Charles James Fox) was unnecessary. Charlotte too, shown here in front of her beloved Frogmore House, is portrayed in an air of calm as both regal and maternal – not the wife who had so anxiously fought off her son’s attempts to sideline her husband.

The provenance of these portraits is worth noting. First, a handwritten note on the reverse of the drawing of George III informs us that “This portrait is the property of His Majesty [signed] H Taylor.” Sir Herbert Taylor (1775–1839) was, by 1805, George III’s private secretary, and during the Regency was appointed a commission of the king''s real and personal estate. His inscription, therefore, places the present portrait in the King’s personal collection from at least 1810. It is also interesting to note that those Edridge drawings of George III and Queen Charlotte currently in the Royal Collection were acquired by George IV from Colnaghi in 1821. Indeed, the Royal Collection drawing of Queen Charlotte is dated later than the example offered here, simply ‘1803’. That the present portraits were the prime versions belonging to the King increases likelihood of their being those exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1803.

It seems likely that these drawings left the Royal Collection at the time of Queen Charlotte’s death in 1818. Many of her personal and private objects, including pictures, were left to her four unmarried daughters. We know for certain that the drawings were not in the collections of two of those daughters – Elizabeth and Mary – and that another Edridge drawing (of the Duke of Cumberland) was in the collection of Princess Sophia, before finally coming into Cumberland’s own possession at the same time as the pair of George III and Queen Charlotte. Both the Cumberland drawing and the Royal pair are marked identically on the reverse “EAFC” – Ernesti Augusti Fideicommissum – to denote the estate of The Duke of Cumberland on his accession as King of Hanover in 1837.

[1] George III & Queen Charlotte; Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste; exhibition catalogue, Jane Roberts ed. 2004
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