Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Queen Charlotte, 1790 

Richard Collins (1755-1831)

Portrait miniature of Queen Charlotte, 1790, Richard Collins
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
2 ¼ x 1 ½ inches, 5.8 x 4 cm
European Private Collection
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This rare and charming miniature portrait of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, was painted in 1790 by Richard Collins. Collins had been appointed Portrait Painter in Enamels to the King, ostensibly the official court miniature artist, one year earlier in 1789, and between then 1791 he worked exclusively for the Royal Family. This portrait miniature is one of the best depictions of Queen Charlotte from that time.

In addition to painting members of the royal family from life, Collins also took royal likenesses from full size portraits by artists such as Gainsborough and Beechey. The present miniature seems to be based on Thomas Lawrence’s spectacular full-length portrait of Charlotte, which had been shown at the Royal Academy in 1789. However, Collins seems to have altered Lawrence’s likeness of Charlotte substantially, and we can be sure that, having had access to the Queen in person, this portrait has been influence by his own observations. Where Lawrence saw the Queen in his portrait as something of ‘a grey old parrot’ (in his words), Collins has added a sense of familial tenderness to this private royal image. Furthermore, Collins’ style of painting in rich, oil-like tones, adds a further feeling of warmth to the image.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was chosen as George III’s bride from a shortlist of six candidates in 1761. She was, on her arrival in England, immediately popular; her slight frame, pale skin and blue-green eyes fitted perfectly the image of a fairytale princess. She did much to further her popularity by learning English rapidly and well, while her relationship with the King was an instantly happy one – they both enjoyed the arts, theatre, music and science. In the other, more essential, role of a Queen Consort – breeding – Charlotte excelled, bearing the King fifteen children and contributing to his image as a national father figure.

Charlotte did not involve herself in politics, although she did play a role in preventing her eldest son, the Prince of Wales, from assuming a Regency during George III’s first period of madness in 1788-9. Most of her time was spent in the pursuit of cultural interests, often with her four unmarried daughters. She posed regularly for her portrait, and was with her husband one of the leading patrons of the arts. She learnt music at the hands of Johann Christian Bach, and Mozart dedicated six sonatas to her. In this and almost every other aspect, Charlotte was the archetypal Queen consort.
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