Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn (1745-1790), brother of King George III, wearing gold-edged blue frock coat, gold-edged white waistcoat and the blue sash and badge of the Order of the Garter 

John Smart (1741-1811)

Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn (1745-1790), brother of King George III, wearing gold-edged blue frock coat, gold-edged white waistcoat and the blue sash and badge of the Order of the Garter, John Smart
Zoom
Pencil and Watercolour on Card
18th Century
Oval, 62mm (2 ½ in) high
 
Provenance:
By descent from the artist; W. H. Bose, a great-grandson of the artist; Christie’s, London, 15 February 1937, lot 15 as ‘Portrait of a gentleman’; Collection of the late Arthur Jaffe (1880-1954); By family descent
Literature:
D. Foskett, John Smart; the man and his miniatures, 1964, pl. XV, no. 57
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This highly significant miniature represents one of Smart’s rare royal commissions. The British Royal Collection holds only one example by Smart of a member of the royal family - a drawing of George IV when Prince of Wales [RCIN 420663]. Painted before the departure of the artist for India in 1785, the miniature attests to the glittering early career of the English miniaturist.

Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, was a notoriously rakish figure in eighteenth-century England. Brother of the king, George III, Cumberland’s romantic dalliances provided a source of embarrassment for his more staid relatives. Following his 1768 appointment to the position of Midshipman in the Royal Navy, Cumberland embarked in 1769 on an affair with Harriet, wife of Richard, first Baron of Grosvenor. Conducted almost in the open, the affair drew public speculation and provoked the ire of the Baron. When the couple were discovered in flagrante delicto in the White Hart Inn, St. Alban’s, by the Baron’s servants, the furious Grosvenor took Cumberland to court and successfully had him convicted and fined £10,000 for criminal conversation with Lady Grosvenor. Following another brief romantic entanglement, the by now impecunious Duke sought to find happiness in his 1771 marriage to Anne Horton, daughter to a family of notorious political opportunists. This match to a woman whom Horace Walpole described as a ‘Coquette beyond measure’ was a humiliation for the royals and, in a fit of rage, the king banished the Duke from his presence. Undeterred, Cumberland set up a rival court in which he patronized musicians, artists, and staged opulent entertainments. Although reconciled to the king in 1780, Cumberland’s influence over the Prince Regent, who developed an infamous taste for loose-living of his own, caused renewed tensions at court. He died in September 1790.

The present portrait of Henry Frederick was probably painted in closing years of the 1770s, around the time that the Duke commissioned a striking full length oil from Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), which remains in the Royal Collection [RCIN 405936]. At this time, both Richard Cosway and John Smart were competing for commissions from the royal family, with Cosway eventually gaining favour. Smart’s decision to move to India in 1785 may have been partially influenced by his clientele, who were wealthy merchants, often with connections to the successful East India Company. The move may also have been governed by the lack of commissions from nobility and royalty, who were loyal to Cosway’s more elaborate style of swagger portrait, in contrast to Smart’s minutely detailed works. As an example of Smart’s famed ability to create a convincing representation of his sitters, and as one of his very few royal commissions, this work presents a rare representation of an eighteenth-century English society figure painted by one of the most capable artists of the age.
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