Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Prince George, later Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904), wearing the collar and mantle of the Order of the Garter , after George Richmond (1809-1896) 

William Essex (1784-1869)

Prince George, later Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904), wearing the collar and mantle of the Order of the Garter , after George Richmond (1809-1896), William Essex
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Enamel on gold
19th Century
Oval, 45mm, (1 ¾ in.) high
 
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Gold-plated frame, the counter-enamel inscribed: ‘H.R.H./Prince George/Son of the Duke of Cambridge/Painted by W.Essex Enamel painter/Her Majesty & H.R.H Prince Albert/After a sketch by G.Richmond/AD.1847’

William Essex is regarded as one of the most important enamellists of the nineteenth century and his work, although more seldom seen that that of his contemporaries, is celebrated for its clarity of colour and form.

William, along with his brother Alfred, trained in the studio of Charles Muss (1779-1824), a master of multiple disciplines who was patronized frequently by George III and later William IV. William exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1818, although the subject matter of these early works tended to be animals or still-life before focusing on portraiture in the mid-1820s. In 1839 Essex was appointed enamel painter to Queen Victoria and then later in 1841 to Prince Albert.

Prince George was the only son of Adolphus Frederick, youngest son of King George III after whom he was named. George’s upbringing was eventful, first overcoming scarlet fever (by supposedly being forced to drink a whole glass of Steinberger wine) and then enduring death threats by his disturbed tutor who was later declared insane. In 1836 George’s tutor was replaced with a military governor, and began laying the foundations for what would be a celebrated career in the army. From 1856 until his retirement in 1895 George held the position of head of the British Army, as Commander-in-Chief of the Forces.

The present work derives from a sketch by George Richmond – most likely the portrait from 1842 recorded in his account book [whereabouts unknown], taken when George was twenty-three years old.

Although we know nothing of the of ownership of this work, the use of gold as a support suggests this was an important commission, and it is quite possible therefore that it was commissioned by the royal family and given as a gift to a family member or close friend. Another enamel version by Essex, also on gold and with a similar inscription on the reverse, is in the Royal Collection [RCIN 421917], and is recorded to have hung in the Queen’s Audience Room at Windsor Castle in 1877.
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