Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince George of Denmark 

Michael Dahl (1659-1743)

Portrait of Prince George of Denmark, Michael Dahl
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Oil on canvas
18th Century
50x 40 inches, 127 x 101 cm
 
Provenance:
American Private Collection
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There was little indication, at the time of George of Denmark’s marriage to Anne Stuart in 1683, that he would eventually become Prince Consort to the Queen of England. Anne was the second daughter of James II, then Duke of York, and there was no suggestion that she would eventually succeed to the throne. George’s marriage was ostensibly meant to act as a diplomatic foil against the marriage of Anne’s elder sister, Mary, to the Dutchman William of Orange, for both France and Denmark were at the time enemies of Holland, and the union of Prince George (who was the second son of King Frederick III of Denmark) was an adept piece of balancing by the English. However, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which James II and his infant male heir were forced into exile, meant that Anne suddenly became second in line to the throne. She succeeded to the crown in 1702 after the failure of her sister Mary to have children with William of Orange.

At first, George was not a success in England. He was described by Lord Dartmouth as the ‘the most indolent of all mankind’, while Charles II had apparently ‘tried him drunk and sober, but “God’s fish” there was nothing in him.’ However, George gradually assumed a greater influence, and played an important role in defecting to William of Orange’s side in 1688, hastening his father-in-law’s defeat. When Anne became Queen, she appointed him Lord High Admiral, in which guise he is seen in the present portrait, and ‘Generalissimo’ of the army. He attended most Cabinet meetings, and was active in the House of Lords as Duke of Cumberland. George and Anne had no children that survived into adulthood, and although some suggested he should become King after Anne’s death, the Act of Succession appointed the Electors of Hanover to the throne.

Ironically, this portrait was previously misidentified as a portrait of James II, and was inscribed in the 19th Century as ‘James Duke of York’ by ‘Kneller’. The correct identification is confirmed by a mezzotint by Cooper after Dahl, and a number of other studio variants of the present picture. A version with tents in the background (showing George as ‘Generalissimo’ of the army) is in the National Portrait Gallery, while another is in the Gripsholm Castle in Stockholm. The present picture is most likely the prime version, being autograph and containing a number of pentiments – evidence of the artist working out the composition – in areas such as the hands. Dahl was regularly patronized by Anne and George, and numerous portraits of them both by him survive, including a large equestrian portrait of George still in the Royal Collection.
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