Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait bust of George III ( 1738 - 1820) 1812

Peter Turnerelli 

Portrait bust of George III ( 1738 - 1820), Peter Turnerelli
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Marble
19th Century
31 inches 78.5 cm high
 
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Peter Turnerelli was born in Dublin, the son of James Tognarelli who was an Italian modeller and figure maker, and an Irish mother. The family moved to London in 1793, where Turnerelli rejected initial ideas of joining the priesthood and began to train as a sculptor at the Royal Academy Schools. Early commissions included a bust of Sir Francis Drake made for the second Lord Heathfield, and an ensuing likeness of Heathfield's father, the renowned defender of Gibraltar. His career gathered new pace however, when Sir Thomas Lawrence took an interest in the sculptor and in 1797 recommended him to the Princess of Wales. He was subsequently appointed both teacher and sculptor to the Queen and Princesses, residing at court for three years before being appointed Sculptor-in-Ordinary to the Royal Family. Sitters included Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, Count Platoff, Lord Melville, Prince Blucher and, in 1818, the Duke of Wellington. He enjoyed a fashionable and lucrative business and was further appointed sculptor to King Louis XVIII of France and the Royal houses of Russia and Portugal.

Turnerelli's relationship with the Royal Family led to his being given permission to make a first likeness of George III in the form of the much reproduced ''Jubilee'' bust of 1810. The work was a huge success, encouraging the sculptor to produce eighty marble copies over the following years, but this variant in Roman costume is considerably less common. Executed in close proximity to the Jubilee bust (of which the National Portrait Gallery's primary version is dated 1809) and a half life-size statue of the King in his state robes that was exhibited at the RA in 1811, there are thought to be four versions of the composition. One was acquired by the V&A museum and reproduced in their Kings and Queens of England exhibition brochure of 1937, and a second was presented to the Corporation of Newark by the Duke of Newcastle in 1818 and remains in the Ballroom of Newark town hall. A third, signed and dated to 1813 resides in the Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin. Given however that this was modelled a year later, and both those in the possession of the V&A and Newark Town Hall are known (in the V&A's case) or thought (in the latter) by their owners to be unsigned and undated, ours is likely to be the primary version.

George III was left heir apparent following the death of his father the Prince of Wales in 1751, and succeeded to the throne in 1760. The first Hanoverian monarch to be essentially English rather than German, and the first to lead a blameless domestic life, he was a genial and popular king. Turnerelli shows George as Roman Emperor, wearing a Laurel wreath and toga in what amounts to an allegory of Caesarean power and grandeur. One might assume this to refer to his public favour, but similar representations can be seen in Rysbrack's portrayals of George II and George I, the National Portrait Gallery's late 17th century terracotta bust of James II and Jean Cavalier's equestrian portrayal of Charles II of 1684. Therefore, although the shift to the antique was almost certainly influenced by the contemporary departure from Roubiliac's Baroque stylisations as the Greco-Roman revival came to the fore at the turn of the century, the sculptor was also following a tradition of Royal representation.

The vogue for a neo-Hellenistic classicism that was infused with the realism of the previous generation was propagated by the likes of Bacon, Rysbrack and Nollekens, but Turnerelli's adaptation is self-contradictory. A constant exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1802 until his death in 1839, he was further the first sculptor to introduce, at the suggestion of Benjamin West, the practice of representing sitters in their own dress, making this version of George III unusual in its fashion-conscious allegorical emphasis. If the bust was preceded by the Jubilee work, as the dating would suggest, then it seems odd that he should return to the classical format reminiscent of his bust of William Pitt of 1807. One can only assume therefore that this second sitting was commissioned by the King to add imperial strength to his public image during the napoleonic wars. Indeed, it is possible that this is the ''National'' bust, as documented by W.G.Strickland (1), of which a small model was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1812.

The King was known to have a ''strong streak of obstinacy''(2) and the bust certainly succeeds in exuding the magisterial gravitas that was doubtless desired in the face of his enemy's rising profile. Napoleon was hailed as a hero in France at the turn of the century. As Jacques-Louis David remarked in1797, ''what a beautiful head he has. It is pure, it is grand, it is as beautiful as the antique. Finally, here is a man to whom one would have raised altars in antiquity''(3). Such reverence, particularly when wrapped in classical allusion, makes King George''s riposte particularly pointed. David's portrayal of Napoleon Crossing the Alps at the Grand-Saint-Bernard (1800) was a ''triumph of myth making''(4) that married the allegorical heroism of the antique to a contemporary military dress that is, in the swathes of its billowing cloak, particularly sympathetic to the Greco-Roman ideal. There can be little doubt that the King's intentions in commissioning this bust were equally self-empowering.

There are several further likenesses of George III in such costume. The most notable is that by Richard Westmacott on display at Belton House, where the monarch stands proud in a very similar pose and garb, but the modelling veers closer to a classical ideal than a true physiognomic likeness of the King. A further 19th century lead bust is included in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, but neither work matches the presence and sense of authority exuded in this piece.


(1) Noted in A Dictionary of Irish Artists, p. 470
(2) Painting and Sculpture, Trinity College Dublin
(3) The French Portrait 1550 - 1850, p.65
(4) ibid., p.66
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