Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait bust of George III (1738-1871) 

William Grinsell Nicholl (1796-1871)

Portrait bust of George III (1738-1871), William Grinsell Nicholl
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Marble
19th Century
Height 30 in., 71 cm.
 
This bust is Nicholl’s version of the popular ‘Jubilee’ bust of George III by Peter Turnerelli. Turnerelli’s bust was begun in 1809 and commissioned to celebrate the King’s fifty years on the throne. Turnerelli was sculptor in ordinary to the Royal Family, and was granted sittings during one of the King’s increasingly rare periods of lucidity before his final descent into madness. Since it was the last bust for which the king sat it became something of an official likeness for the remainder of reign, and was known as ‘the National Bust’. Nicholl, a young aspiring sculptor at the time, was probably one of many artists commissioned to make a copy of the Jubilee bust, though he may well have executed this portrait of the King early in his career as a means of seeking patronage.

At the time the original was commissioned, support for George as the nation’s father-figure was at its height. He was, after all, the first Hanoverian to speak fluent English, and considered himself first and foremost a Briton. He could thus relate more easily to his subjects, who relished not being ruled by a foreigner for a change. He was affectionately nicknamed ‘Farmer George’, after his keen interest in agriculture. He became still more popular late in life (even after the loss of the America’s) following his famous ‘illness’, as it was delicately called. George first became delusional in the late 1780s, but recovered sufficiently to prevent the Whigs forming a regency under his son, the Prince of Wales. Thereafter he became increasingly viewed with pity and fondness by the public, and particularly the press. Then, in the 1790s, the radical horrors of the French Revolution further reinforced the popularity of England’s long-serving, conservative monarch. It is significant here that George is depicted in simple, contemporary dress, and not the distant-looking roman toga then normally used for busts of royalty and statesmen.



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