Samuel Shelley (1750-1808)
Henry Frederick was a notoriously rakish figure in eighteenth-century England and his romantic dalliances provided a source of embarrassment for his more staid relatives...
This newly discovered portrait miniature by Samuel Shelley of Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, was probably commissioned just a few years later than Shelley’s depiction of the Duke now in the Royal Collection [RCIN 43897]. The present portrait uses the same head-type as Gainsborough Dupont’s portrait of Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, the original oil recently appearing on the art market. Shelley pronounces Cumberland’s royal identity by prominently displaying the sash of the Order of the Garter, with the Garter Star just visible beneath it. Samuel Shelley was employed by the court of Cumberland’s brother, George III and Queen Charlotte, although not in a formal capacity, and was considered one of the most fashionable miniaturists of his day.
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. Cumberland, with his brothers and sisters, led a sheltered upbringing. He was made a Midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1768, at the later age of twenty-two, and a year later he embarked on a conspicuous affair with Harriet, wife of Richard, first Baron of Grosvenor. 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. This led to George III’s introduction of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, which stated that the Crown must give consent for potential royal marriages. Undeterred, Cumberland set up a rival court in which he patronised 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.
Shelley was born in London and lived for the duration of his working life in the capital. After winning the much coveted premium prize awarded annually by the Society of Arts at the age of fourteen, he entered into the Royal Academy Schools on 21st March 1774. He exhibited at the RA between 1774 and 1804 and was greatly influenced by the work of Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy.
Initially pursuing portraiture, Shelley embarked on ambitious history and subject pictures from 1780. One of Shelley’s most accomplished works in miniature is Macbeth Saluted by the Witches, in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London [FA.673].
Understandably, Shelley became frustrated with the Royal Academy’s increasingly elitist attitude towards watercolourists, leading him, along with eight other artists, to found the Society of Painters in Water Colours in 1804. This new society meant that watercolours were separated from the brightly-coloured, large oil paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy, allowing them to be appreciated for their distinctive medium in their own space. Shelley was treasurer of the society for two years until December 1806 and was an important voice in the history of watercolour painting in the eighteenth century.
Both Edward Nash and Alexander Robertson were his pupils and Shelley’s work exists in a number of national collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Collection and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Several of his miniatures were exhibited at the Special Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures at the South Kensington Museum in 1865 and the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1889.
Several portraits of Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland exist in the Royal Collection, including a portrait of Cumberland and his wife Anne Horton which was painted by Thomas Gainsborough in c.1785-8 [RCIN 400675]. Gainsborough’s painting depicts the Duke in the same green jacket as Dupont’s portrait, previously mentioned. As Shelley’s portrait miniature derives from the head-type of Dupont’s portrait, it can be suggested that it was painted at the same date, c.1785-8.
Other portraits of the duke in the Royal Collection are by Gainsborough’s rival Sir Joshua Reynolds, Jean-Étienne Liotard and the miniaturists Richard Crosse and Richard Cosway. Cumberland was also drawn by John Smart, one of the leading miniaturists of the eighteenth-century. 
 The version in the Royal Collection is currently dated circa 1782, whereas the present portrait probably dates to circa 1785, the same date as Gainsborough’s portrait of Cumberland and Anne Horton, also in the Royal Collection.
 Lyon & Turnbull, 1st November 2011, lot 141.
 Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures on Loan at the South Kensington Museum (London, 1865); Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures, Burlington Fine Arts Club (London, 1889).
 Previously with Philip Mould & Co.