Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King George IV as Prince of Wales 1785 - 87c.

Thomas Gainsborough RA (172788)

Portrait of King George IV as Prince of Wales, Thomas Gainsborough RA
Black and white chalks on paper
18th Century
14 x 10 inches 37.4 x 27.3 cm
John Hayes The Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough London 1970 Text volume p.129 under catalogue entry 66.
Ipswich Gainsborough Memorial Exhibition 1927 Oxford Arts Club 1935
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We are grateful to Dr John Hayes for confirming the attribution to Thomas Gainsborough.

This vigorous and animated pencil sketch is a study for an equestrian portrait of the Prince of Wales commissioned by Thomas Coke in 1785-7 and intended to hang at Holkham Hall in Norfolk. Stylistically it is characteristic of the restless quality of Gainsborough's mature drawing, which he rehearsed in highly-prized landscape and figure studies. John Hayes (Private Correspondence) draws attention to the ''feeling for light, and the vigorous handling of the background and of the foreground detail on the right can now be seen to link it with such late Gainsborough landscape drawings as that in the Mellon Collection at Yale.'' (Hayes ''Drawings of Thomas Gainsborough London 1970 plate 235)

The drawing also reveals the artist's continuing interest in Van Dyck as an inspiration and model, and accepting variations in angle, recalls the Equestrian Portrait of King Charles I (Royal Collection). The companion portrait with which the completed George Prince of Wales was intended to hang at Holkham was itself by Van Dyck, the famous equestrian portrait of the Duke of Aremberg.

Two further drawings (John Hayes op. cit., nos. 65 and 66) show Gainsborough exploring this composition, one as here with the sitter in seventeenth century armour, the other in contemporary military uniform with a cocked hat. The three drawings conform to what is known of the specifications of this uncompleted project. The Prince sat for the portrait once in 1785 or 1786, and it was intended (The Morning Herald June 13th 1787) that there be a final sitting for the completion of the picture in June 1787. The two forms of dress shown by the three drawings are reflected in the suggestion that the Prince was to be shown ''either in armour; or else slight martial attire, with the mantle of a Knight of the Garter over it.'' None of the surviving drawings shows the subject wearing a Garter mantle, but otherwise they represent the choice between historical and contemporary costume.
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