Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, The Young Pretender (1720 - 1788) 1740s

Sir Robert Strange 

Portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, The Young Pretender (1720 - 1788), Sir Robert Strange
Oil on copper
18th Century
5 1/2 x 4 inches oval 13.9 cm
This portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart is a product of the boundless, devoted enthusiasm to his ideal exhibited by his supporters in Britain around the time of his attempt to regain the crown for his father in 1745. It must have been painted with some good knowledge of the subject, as Strange fought for the Jacobites until their defeat in the following year, and shows a Prince with an open, honest and noble countenance, fully anticipating a deserved victory. The formulaic elements, the grandiose framing drapery, the star and garter sash that he wears as son of the legitimate sovereign, and the feathered bonnet — a tug on the emotions of the Scottish clansmen who were the mass of his support — cannot distract from the acuity of the characterisation and the reluctance to flatter.

Sir Robert Strange was an artist whose devotion to his craft led him to prefer poverty to the bread-and-butter commissions that were an engraver''s staple, and by contradictions typified by the fact that despite being an ardent Jacobite whose work for the exiled Stuarts went as far as designing the banknotes for their restored rule1 he was knighted by King George III for engraving the apotheosis of the Royal children after Benjamin West.

On the Continent he is known as an engraver, executing plates after Van Dyck and the painters of the Italian Baroque, but his most familiar works in this country are the small-scale portraits that he painted of the leaders of the ''45 Rebellion, most notably Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Lord George Murray. Some of these are copies after portraits on the scale of life — a signed portrait of the Prince in a private collection (image Hein2 Archive NPG) derives from Le Tocque— whilst others, such as the present example, have the feel of independent compositions.
Strange''s conversion to the Jacobite cause came less through his devotion to the Stuarts than to Isabella Lumisden, who made it a condition of his future marriage to her that he fight for the Pretender in 1745. Accordingly, he was present at Falkirk and Prestonpans, and at the final disaster of Culloden, all of which he described in his memoirs2. He was himself a player in an episode with parallels throughout the loyalist mythology: it is said that when government soldiers were searching for him at Isabella Lumisden's house he hid himself under her skirts, whilst she embroidered and sang a Jacobite ballad.

It was during this period of hiding, before the amnesty of 1747, that Strange produced a great many small pencil, oil and engraved portraits of the Pretender, which were objects of much secret devotion by their owners. The present portrait is exactly this sort of clandestine image, portable, easily hidden and meant only for the eyes of the initiate. After marrying Isabella Lumisden in secret, Strange made his way to Rouen, which was then the focus of the Jacobites in exile. There he took no further part in dynastic politics but took up the study of drawing and anatomy, before moving to Paris in 1749. There he swiftly acquired a reputation for his engraving the painters of the Italian High Baroque3.

He did not return to England for another ten years, when he was asked by Alan Ramsay to engrave that painter's portraits of the Prince of Wales, the future King George III, and his favourite Lord Bute. Strange was reluctant to undertake the commission — which was quite contrary to his own artistic tastes- as he was due to travel to Italy, and he considered remuneration of one hundred pounds derisory, given the complexity of the work involved. He attributed the difficulties that he later experienced in gaining acceptance in London art circles to the intrigues of George Ill's servants, the engraver Bartolozzi and the Royal Librarian Dalton arising from their master's pique at the refusal. It is also worth remembering, however, that in view of Strange's past and the undying Jacobitism of his wife it was remarkable that he was offered the commission in the first place. That he later believed that the Royal Academy's refusal to admit engravers as full members, but only as associates, was aimed directly at excluding him betrays a remarkable, subdued egotism, which may be the key to his character.

Despite these setbacks, he finally attracted favourable notice from the King in 1784 with his engraving of Van Dyck''s portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria in the Royal Collection. To execute this engraving — which was nonetheless published in Paris — Strange was allowed unlimited access to the Royal Collection through the offices of his friend the painter Benjamin West, an invaluable route to the favour of George III. As a gesture of appreciation both to painter and sovereign, Strange engraved West's Apotheosis of the Children of George III — the sole occasion on which he made a plate from the work of a living artist - and the King knighted him in 1787. In one of his flashes of wit, the King asked whether Mr Strange objected to being knighted by the Elector of Hanover.

Strange died in 1792 in Great Queen Street, by then past its prime as one of the great artists' addresses of the eighteenth century. His three sons were children of their age, and they made their careers in India, in the military and colonial service. Only his daughter Mary Bruce Strange, who predeceased him, inherited something of his talent and his enthusiasm for art.

1. The plate for these banknotes was discovered about 1835 in Loch Laggan (Dictionary of National Biography).
2. Memoirs of Sir Robert Strange, Knight, and of Andrew Lumisden, ed. James Dennistoun of Dennistoun
3. In a curious gloss on changing taste, Charles Trotter writes in 1898 that ''Advanced modern taste may regret that his choice fell so frequently on paintings of the eclectic school, on Carlo Doha, Carlo Maratti, or even on Guercino and Guido [Reni]'' who are now, of course, regarded as the shining products of a golden age.
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