Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of George, Prince of Wales (1865-1936) 1902

John Seymour Lucas 

Portrait of George, Prince of Wales (1865-1936), John Seymour Lucas
Oil on canvas
20th Century
29 x 20.5 inches 73.7 x 52cm
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This significant portrait of George, Prince of Wales is considered to be an important ad-vivum representation of the future King. In 1902 the Prince was made Colonel of the Kurassier regiment in Germany by his cousin, Emperor Wilhelm II, and this portrait would have been commissioned for or by the regiment in what was standard practice for a newly appointed royal Colonel. It could possibly have been painted for the Monarch who granted the honour: Wilhelm II for example sat for portraits for presentation for his grandmother, Queen Victoria, and his uncle Edward VI, but all evidence points to the likelyhood of a regimental commission. The Prince's light-coloured uniform and helmet survive in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace and there can thus be no doubt as to the identification of his position and purpose of the portrait.

Of the sitting itself, the Prince is known to have sat for Seymour Lucas on 5th February 1908 for an hour and a half in order to ''finish a sketch of me''(1). He had sat for the artist the preceding December for a pencil sketch that was to appear in Graphic magazine, but further records crucially show that he was photographed in the uniform of the German Kurassiers ''for a picture which Lucas is painting for the regiment'' (2). One can therefore conclude that the sitting of the 5th February was that for the regimental portrait rather than the magazine illustration, and that the Kurassier regiment, rather than the Prince, commissioned the portrait from Lucas.

George made a visit to two of his regiments in March 1908, spending a full day with the Kurassiers on the 26th of that month. Although this would have made an obvious occasion for the unveiling of his portrait, there are no records of such an event taking place. This is not to state categorically that a viewing or unveiling never took place, indeed it is highly probable, but following the disbandment of the regiment, no records survive to indicate the contrary. Whatever the status of its official unveiling however, this portrait is either a modello for the final work or possibly the prime painting itself. Given that there is no other comparable image and no obvious ''prime'' version, it would be conjectural to assume that the commissioned portrait would have been any larger. The other Lucas in the Royal Collection, the reception of the Moorish Ambassador commissioned by the Prince''s father, is a small cabinet picture that was deemed expensive at the time, and it is possible that the regiment was unable to afford the proportionately large price of a full-scale portrait from the artist. Another possible explanation for the small-scale format would be the short amount of time available to the artist had the portrait been given a proposed unveiling during March 1908.

As for the Prince's relationship with his regiment and the German Emperor, both the warnings of a potential German invasion that came through numerous sources, including his First Sea Lord, Sir John Fisher, and Willhelm''s sensitivity towards the Prince''s apparent reluctance to visit him, caused considerable tension. In 1906, the German Emperor ''began to complain to the British Military attache that the prince seemed reluctant to come again to Berlin and to hint that his failure to visit the German regiment of which he had been appointed Colonel was causing comment and offence''(3). The Prince''s response to this accusation gives some indication of the deterioration of their relationship; ''What he says about my reluctance to go to Berlin & that I have not yet paid a visit to my regiment, although I have been the Colonel of it for three years, is bosh. It is a pity that the Emperor should always go out of his way to make complaints. I had no wish whatsoever to become Col. of a German Regiment; that was forced upon me, & because I have not yet had an opportunity of seeing it, it is continually rammed down one's throat.''(4).

Thus the nature of his visit of 26th March 1908 seems to have been one of maintaining civil relations in a period of considerable unrest. The Prince obediently donned a German uniform and inspected his regiment in Cologne, addressing the officers and men with a few words of rudimentary German. He then returned to England via Paris, where he lunched with President Fallieres and met with Monsieur Clemenceau and other French politicians in what he saw as being a form of ''compensation for this uncongenial duty''(5).

1) Quoted by Charles Noble and taken from records in the Royal Collection.
3)''King George V'', H.Nicholson, pg.97
4)Ibid. pg.97
5)Ibid. pg.98

We are grateful to Charles Noble from the Royal Collection for his help in cataloguing this picture.
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