Historical Portraits Picture Archive

The Harlequin Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie 1745

John Worsdale Attributed to 

The Harlequin Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, John Worsdale Attributed to
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
The portraits of Prince Charles Edward Stuart that appeared in England and Scotland during and after the expedition in 1745 are distinguished by their emphasis on the Prince's military character as with earlier portraits executed on the Continent but also on his Scottish ancestry.

The Prince's Stuart blood was, of course, his claim to royal title, but the more immediate events of the '15 and '45 had rendered the Jacobite cause in arms a Scottish phenomenon. It was in Scotland that mass support had twice been mustered in half a century for the exiled Stuarts, and the dissemination of distinctly Scottish images of the Prince was an important element of Jacobite propaganda as well as an acknowledgment of a brief period in which the Prince came closest to playing the proper part of a prince among his father's subjects.

Since, even as images such as this were being produced, it must have been increasingly apparent that a Stuart restoration was an unattainable dream they must very swiftly even in their own time have acquired the romantic character they bear to this day as nostalgic records of a period of adventure and possibility.

The principal native types of portrait of the Prince dating to the years of and immediately after the Rebellion in 1745 are the portraits painted by Sir Robert Strange based on his personal knowledge of the Prince, the ''Highlander'' three-quarter profile portrait in bonnet also attributed to Strange - which was frequently engraved on Jacobite drinking glasses, and the present small full-length portrait known as the ''Harlequin'' portrait, from the tartan suit that the Prince wears. The Prince is shown in a landscape, assuming a commanding and defiant pose, and dressed in tartan with a bonnet.

He is identified as Prince Charles Stuart by the Garter sash and star that he wears, whilst the broadsword and targe behind him further define him as a Scotsman. The composition might have been designed to illustrate the Prince's words when he landed in the Hebrides on August 2nd 1745 ''I am come home, and I will not return to France, for I am persuaded that my faithful highlanders will stand by me.''1 The castle in the distance is not identified, although in the engraving of the composition by G. Will (Scottish National Portrait Gallery) it has been altered to a more conventionally British appearance with curtain wall and keep set on a hill. In the print the cross of St George hangs from a broken mast on the tower, suggesting, at least for the engraver, that the fortress may represent Carlisle Castle, which capitulated to the Prince after a siege begun on November 8th 1745, or even Edinburgh which has welcomed him so enthusiastically at the start of his campaign.

This detail in the print, along with the addition of three books (of law?) placed at the Prince''s feet and marked Millitaty, Ecclesiastick and Civil, exemplifies its more straightforwardly propagandist character, as well as suggesting that the engraving at least was intended for an audience north of the border. Beyond the costume and highland weapons the symbolism of the painting is more muted, although the thistles in left foreground are equally prominent in both.

Several versions of this portrait exist, attesting to a high degree of popularity in the period immediately following the Rebellion and subsequently. Examples exist in the collection of Lord Lovat, in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, at Fort Augustus Abbey and elsewhere. They are usually of a standard size of c.30 x 25 inches, as here, and show the Prince at full-length with the exception of a three-quarter length version at Dalmeny (Earl of Rosebery). It has been suggested that the source for the likeness is the engraving by Sir Robert Strange after his own portrait of the Prince taken in September 1745 but this is not proven. The name of the artist ''Wassdail is taken from the inscription on the engraving by G. Will. No painter of this name is known, but it has been plausibly suggested by Alistair Laing2 that the name is a corruption of Worsdale, and that the painter was James Worsdale (1692 1767).

When a version of this painting was exhibited in 1992 in Paris at La cour des Stuarts a Saint-Germain-en-Laye au temps de Louis XIV it was attributed to Worsdale, and the production of such images, even though bordering treason, would not have been out of character for him. Stylistically the slender doll-like figure closely resembles those in A Musical Party (Private Collection) which Worsdale painted in the 1730s when in Ireland.
Worsdale was a servant of Sir Godfrey Kneller, who became a studio assistant and copyist. He was thrown out by Kneller for marrying a niece of Lady Kneller, and for stating that the painter was his father.

As an independent painter he produced portraits in the Kneller manner, painting royal portraits for the Nisi Prius Court, Chester in 1733. Two years later he was in Ireland where he painted founded the Limerick Hell Fire Club and painted a portrait of its members (National Gallery of Ireland), and in 1738 he painted portraits of William Duke of Devonshire the Lord Lieutenant.

Worsdale was known as a rake, a womaniser and a man of the theatre who wrote and acted in plays. In 1731 he was appointed Deputy Master of the Revels to the Viceregal court3. He was clearly a convivial man, popular with all save outraged husbands and the strait-laced George Vertue who described him on his return to London in 1744 as ''a little cringing creature''4 who by ''many artful wayes pushd himself into a numerous acquaintance.''5 This acquaintance was influential, and by the help of his patron Sir Edward Walpole he was later appointed Master Painter to the Board of Ordnance. In relating how Worsdale
gained credit as a painter by passing off a portrait of Queen Caroline after Kneller as a work of his own painted from memory, Vertue describes a man who might well have produced a speculative composite image of Bonnie Prince Charlie for the English and Scottish Jacobite market as a commercial venture. Even if the painting was originally the product of a cynical enterprise the image has survived as a strikingly romantic icon of the Stuart cause.

1. Quoted by Alexander Charles Ewald Dictionary of National Biography 1887
2. Information on file at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
3. Walter George Strickland A Dictionary of Irish Artists Dublin 1913 Vol. II />.563
4. George Vertue Diaries Walpole Society XXII 1933 - 1934 p. 59
5. ibid.
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