Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Queen Charlotte 1769

Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland RA MP, 1st Bart (1735-1811)

Portrait of Queen Charlotte, Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland RA MP, 1st Bart
Oil on canvas
18th Century
100 x 59 inches, 254 x 150 cm
Ernest Augustus, 1st Duke of Cumberland & Teviotdale, later King of Hanover (1771–1851), (Queen Charlotte’s younger son); By descent through the Kings of Hanover to; The Prince of Hanover, Ernst August, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg (b.1954 - )
Furstenhaus Anlage 1893, Inventory Number 364 Mid-Georgian Portraits, John Ingamells (National Portrait Gallery London, 2004) p 104
Possibly Royal Academy 1769 no. 31
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Nathaniel Dance painted King George III and Queen Charlotte, the greatest Royal patrons of the arts since Charles I, in about 1769. The portraits were exhibited at the first Royal Academy exhibition in 1769. The recent discovery of this portrait of Queen Charlotte in the collection of the Royal House of Hanover not only adds considerably to Dance’s oeuvre, but represents one of the most accomplished full length royal portraits of the period, and demonstratively a primary work. It shows the Queen at the height of both her personal power (before her husband’s painful descent into madness) and at the apex of Britain’s Colonial power - before the traumatic loss of the Americas.

It is not known for certain who commissioned this portrait. It is possible that Dance painted the King and Queen in the hope of gaining further Royal patronage, though this may have been viewed as improper, for Allan Ramsay was already in post as Painter to the King. A direct Royal connection seems more likely. In the 1760s Dance painted a number of works that are still in the Royal Collection today. First, George’s younger brother the Duke of York sat to Dance when in Rome in 1764. York’s portrait, a full length of similar dimensions to the present example, was intended by the King to form part of a set of family portraits for the Dining-Room at Buckingham House. Secondly, Dance’s subject picture ‘Timon of Athens’ was bought by George III for the Library at Buckingham House in about 1767, and was the King’s first purchase of a neo-classical history. Finally, George III commissioned Dance to paint his brother-in-law King Christian VII of Denmark in 1768. Buckingham House, today better known as Buckingham Palace, was Queen Charlotte’s private residence.

The provenance of this portrait again suggests a close link with the sitter. Prior to its recent rediscovery the portrait formed part of a neglected series of English portraits in the collection of the Princes of Hanover, themselves descendants of Queen Charlotte. The Hanoverian royal family became Kings of England in 1714, after the death of Queen Anne, and the crowns of Hanover and Britain were thus united. In 1837, however, salic law (forbidding female succession) left Victoria as Queen of Britain, while her uncle Ernest Augustus (as George III and Charlotte’s younger son) became King of Hanover.

Inevitably, Ernest Augustus took many portraits of his English relatives with him to Hanover, with Dance’s painting of his mother apparently being one of them [both the frame and the stretcher are inscribed with the monogram “AE” beneath a crown]. Other examples include Henry Edridge’s exquisite drawings of his parents and sisters [also with Historical Portraits], which originally formed part of George III’s own personal collection. This portrait is sold together with a drawing of Ernest Augustus by Henry Edridge, which was almost certainly bequeathed to the sitter by his sister, Princess Sophia. Ernest Augustus’ collection is known to have contained many other ‘English’ items, including plate from his sister Augusta and his mother. Indeed, soon after Augusta’s death, Ernest Augustus bought the remainder of her jewels “rather than that any part thereof should pass out of the family.” [Royal Archives, RA VIC/Add. R 53].

We cannot be certain as to whether the present portrait, or another version now at Uppark House [National Trust, Sussex, England] was that exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1769. Until the recent discovery of the present portrait, it has been presumed that the Uppark version, together with its companion portrait of George III, was the only possible candidate. But the presence of another portrait of George III by Dance on the art market in 1840 [Christies, March 7th, in the sale of “A Nobleman” (the Duke of Devonshire)] leaves open the possibility that the Hanover portrait was one of another pair – and thus that exhibited at the RA. Furthermore, the presence of numerous pentiments in the Hanover version (where Dance has experimented with the composition, most notably in the background, drapery and chair) show conclusively that it is the prime version. The Uppark versions (first recorded as exhibited at the RA in 1878) may result from the common practice of painting more than one version of a royal commission, in the expectation of finding a ready buyer – Allan Ramsay, for example, enjoyed a regular income from reproductions of his coronation portraits.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was chosen as George III’s bride from a shortlist of six candidates in July 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 artists such as Gainsborough, Zoffany, and later Lawrence. She learnt music at the hands of Johann Christian Bach, while Mozart dedicated six sonatas to her. In this and almost every other aspect, Charlotte was the archetypal Queen consort.

Nathaniel Dance trained, like so many of his contemporaries, in Rome, where he studied with Pompeo Batoni. It was probably while under Batoni’s influence that Dance developed the use of the highly pitched colours that became his trademark, and which help convey this affectingly direct image of childhood – in contrast to the more subdued work of his contemporaries in London. Dance initially worked in Rome as a history painter, but soon became known, as Walpole noted, as “the celebrated English painter at Rome” . His best portraits were of ‘Grand-Tourers’ such as George III’s younger brother Augustus, Duke of York (1764, Royal Collection) and David Garrick. It was in Rome too that Dance began his passion for the painter Angelica Kaufman, and where the two apparently determined to marry on their return to London in the 1760s – though sadly the union never occurred, much to Dance’s chagrin.

Once back in London Dance established a successful portrait practice, where he continued to paint the colourful and expressive portraits for which he had become famous. At some point in the 1770s he became financially independent, and finally ceased painting professionally on his election to Parliament in 1790, when he also resigned his membership of the Royal Academy, of which he had been a founder member. He became a Baronet in 1800. In a curious reflection of the relatively low social status of artists in the early nineteenth century, Dance took care to disassociate himself with his artistic past, destroying many of his works, and exhibiting only the occasional landscape at the Royal Academy (in all cases, as ‘a gentleman’). Dance saw his great talent as a mere trade, and thus the work of Britain’s first neo-classical artist has become less well known that it otherwise should be.
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